Money is the lifeblood of American education. The nation spends more than half-a-trillion dollars each year on elementary and secondary schools, not counting capital funding and infrastructure costs. And the lion’s share of it comes out of state and local coffers—$301.6 billion from the states, $292 billion in local money in fiscal 2015, the U.S. Department of Education reported in January. (The feds? They kicked in less than a tenth of the total that year—just $55 billion.)
But the gross numbers say nothing about whether that money is adequate to educate 56 million schoolchildren, whether it’s spread evenly among 13,000 school districts, or about the economic and political hurdles that policymakers face in spending those hard-fought tax dollars.
The latest edition of Quality Counts 2018 takes a detailed look at what’s behind this year’s school finance grades from the Education Week Research Center, first reported as part of the annual state-by-state ranking of the nation’s schools released in January. Under the new Quality Counts format, this second of three reports digs deep into data illuminating school finance from two important angles: overall state-by-state spending; and funding equity, or just how fairly that money is spent.
The results can be surprising—and instructive. They show: high-spending states whose overall funding masks the many districts that fall behind their wealthier peers; big differences in how much of their taxable wealth policymakers spend on schools from state to state; and, just how far certain states have to go to bring all students up to the national average on K-12 spending.
Providing context for all this, Education Week‘s state policy and finance reporter Daarel Burnette II examines the web of economic and political forces that determine how much K-12 policymakers have available to spend on schools, how they slice up that pie, wild cards like the fallout from regional economic problems, and the challenge of selling funding increases to tax-averse voters. The report also takes a look at how the courts and civil rights groups are turning up the heat to assure that disadvantaged communities don’t get left behind on school spending.
In September, the final installment of Quality Counts 2018 will provide detailed analysis of student achievement across states as well as the Research Center’s annual “Chance for Success Index,” a cradle-to-career look at how each state’s educational system stacks up when it comes to preparation for a positive outcome over a person’s lifetime.
For more detail on this topic and others, register for the free June 27 webinar, “Quality Counts 2018: Follow the Money—School Finance and Funding.” And go to www.edweek.org/go/qc18 to catch up on the 50-state report card on the nation’s schools in the special report released earlier this year.
A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2018 edition of Education Week as School Funding Data Shine a Bright Light on States’ Priorities