Budget & Finance

State K-12 Funding Lags Six Years After Recession Hit, Report Says

By Andrew Ujifusa — September 12, 2013 2 min read
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State education budgets still haven’t recovered sufficiently from the Great Recession in 2007, according to a report released today by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In the new CBPP report, “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” authors Michael Leachman and Chris Mai state that “at least” 34 states are funding public schools at lower levels for the 2013-14 school year than they did for the 2007-8 school year, on a per-student basis and adjusted for inflation. And 13 states have cut per-student spending by more than 10 percent over that time—two states, Alabama and Oklahoma, have cut that spending by more than 20 percent since the financial crisis. CBPP also says that despite rising tax revenues across most of the country, 15 states cut their per-student spending on K-12 from the 2012-13 academic year to the 2013-14 year.

UPDATE: In a call with reporters, Leachman said that these kinds of cuts damage efforts to implement “basic” education reforms that have been proven to help students. The reforms Leachman’s referring to include smaller class sizes, as well as higher-quality (and by extension better-paid) teachers. He also singled out for criticism several states, including Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin, that have cut either personal or corporate income tax rates, or both, “at a time when their revenue systems are already hurting.”

One of the most eye-catching statistics in the report comes from the local level: Districts have cut about 324,000 jobs during the recession and its aftermath, according to CBPP. What’s the reason for that? Part of the answer is that despite the improving fiscal situation overall, the picture is far from totally sunny: Local property tax revenues actually declined from March 2012 to March 2013 by 2.1 percent compared to the previous 12-month period.

Even in states where education spending is on the rebound, CBPP argues that in many cases those increases don’t make up for what states frantically slashed during the recession’s most dire moments. New Mexico lawmakers approved a $72 per-student funding increase this year, the authors note by way of example, but during the previous five years combined, they eliminated $946 in per-student money. (A total of 48 states were reviewed for CBPP’s study.)

“At a time when states and the nation are trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, this decline in state educational investment is cause for concern,” the report states.

When you look at the numbers, one state that stands out is North Dakota. It increased K-12 spending 10 percent from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014, and its per-student outlay is up a remarkable 27 percent from 2008 to 2014 ($1,116 per student). Why? One word provides a big part of the answer: Oil. The migration of workers to the North Dakota extraction facilities has led to a massive increase in studnet enrollment, as a relative matter, for many small-town schools and districts in the state.

CBPP has put out a similar report on state K-12 spending in both 2012 and 2011, but it isn’t always well- received. Arizona, for example, disputed the findings in CBPP’s 2012 report, saying it was misconstruing some figures.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.