Education Funding

Researcher Warns States Of Ballooning ESEA Costs

By Debra Viadero — May 14, 2003 3 min read
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States might have to raise their education budgets by as much as 30 percent to comply with the requirements of the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, according to a Vermont researcher who has gathered cost data from 10 states.

William J. Mathis, a school superintendent and education finance professor in the Green Mountain State, says his findings suggest that states should consider the fiscal implications of the federal government’s latest revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“By taking on obligations to increase the state budget by that much, states might not be realizing the impact,” said Mr. Mathis, who is the superintendent of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, a 2,100-student school district.

Mr. Mathis’ article, “No Child Left Behind: Costs and Benefits,” is available from Phi Delta Kappan

However, some school finance and budget analysts said Mr. Mathis’ estimates, which were published this month in the journal Phi Delta Kappan, may be premature.

“Right now, it’s next to impossible to figure out what the costs are because states are at such varying levels of meeting these requirements,” said Steve Smith, a senior policy specialist with the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

Still, experts said, the figures raise important questions about the extent to which the No Child Left Behind law is imposing mandates on states without accompanying funding.

For his analysis, Mr. Mathis drew on several sources, including estimates prepared for states on what it would take to provide an “adequate and equitable” education under their own constitutions. Only four of the 10 state projections directly address the cost of complying with the new law.

Nonetheless, Mr. Mathis said, “they’re all based on standards and every child reaching standards, and how much it would cost in all the states to do it.” Across the board, he said, the cost projections suggest that the price tag for states could be “massive.”

The study notes, for example, that:

  • In South Carolina, the cost involved in getting 85 percent of students up to the “basic” level on state tests by 2011 would require raising state per-pupil spending from $4,990 in 1999 to $6,189 by 2005-06.
  • In New Hampshire, the New Hampshire School Administrators Association estimates that the state will receive $77 per student annually in new federal money but spend an additional $575 per student to meet the obligations imposed by the new law.
  • Nebraska educators and school officials figure they would have had to spend 45 percent more this school year in order for all students to meet that state’s current academic standards.

What Is Adequate?

The other states addressed in the study are: Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New York, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin. The law may be especially pricey, Mr. Mathis said, for states such as Vermont and Maryland, where academic standards are already high.

For his part, President Bush has proposed boosting funds for the federal Title I program for disadvantaged students by $1 billion in the coming fiscal year to help states comply with the law, which requires participating schools and districts to show that all students are making “adequate yearly progress” on mandated state tests. Mr. Mathis said that amount pales in comparison, however, with the additional $84.5 billion to $148 billion that his figures suggest the nation may need.

Analysts at the NCSL said some of the state figures, however, include costs that may or may not directly result from the new law, such as the cost of ensuring that all classrooms are staffed by qualified teachers.

“There were numerous states involved in improving teacher quality before NCLB,” said Scott Young, a policy associate for educational programs with the NCSL. “What does the state need to take responsibility for as compared to the federal government?”

Another problem with the estimates, he said, is that calculations of state costs for providing “adequate” schooling vary according to which methods are used.

But Mr. Mathis’ report touches a nerve with policymakers in many states, Mr. Young said.

“When you consider the fact that states provide 49 to 50 percent of the cost of educating our children, and the federal government provides 7 percent, some of our members think these requirements are a little heavy-handed,” he said.

As of last week, the U.S. Department of Education had approved compliance plans for 16 states.

Four more states—Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Utah—are also studying the fiscal implications of the federal law.

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