K-12 Funding Down in Most States
Most states are providing less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than they provided in fiscal year 2008. Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold.
As my coauthors and I document in a new paper, after adjusting for inflation, at least 31 states provided less state funding per student in 2014 — the most recent year for which data are available — than in 2008, before the recession took hold. In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
Data on total funding in the current school year (fiscal 2016) aren't yet available. But at least 25 states are still providing less "general" or "formula" funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than they provided in 2008. In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent. (These interactive maps give state-by-state data on total state funding and state general funding.)
Schools in every state rely heavily on state aid, which supplies 46 percent of school revenues on average. Local governments provide another 45 percent; the rest comes from the federal government.
Because state aid is so important, large cuts to state funding (especially formula funding) generally force local school districts to scale back educational services, raise more revenue to cover the gap, or both.
In at least 27 states, local K-12 funding per student rose between 2008 and 2014, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support. And in at least 18 states, local funding fell over that period.
Major state K-12 funding cuts have led to job losses, deepening the recession and slowing the economy's recovery by reducing overall economic activity since the recession officially ended in mid-2009. They forced school districts to lay off teachers and other employees, reduce pay for the remaining workers, and cancel contracts with suppliers and other businesses. These steps remove consumer demand from the economy, which in turn discourages businesses from making new investments and hiring.
Large funding cuts can also undermine education reforms. Many states and school districts have placed a priority on reforms to better prepare children for the future, such as improving teacher quality, reducing class sizes, and increasing student learning time. Deep funding cuts hamper their ability to implement many of these reforms. For example, the number of public K-12 teachers and other school workers has fallen by 297,000 since 2008, even as the number of students has risen by about 804,000.
These trends are very concerning for our country's future prospects. At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, large cuts in funding for basic education undermine a crucial building block for future prosperity.
Michael Leachman is the director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.