Since the recession began, K-12 education spending has declined dramatically in some states. In Alabama and Oklahoma, per-pupil spending fell by more than 20%.
While the majority of state school systems have cut spending between fiscal year 2008 and the upcoming fiscal year 2014, the cuts have been much more severe in some places than in others. According to the latest school spending data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), seven states have cut per-pupil spending by more than 15% in that time.
“The decline in state revenues was unlike anything that we’ve seen in decades,” explained Michael Leachman, CBPP director of state fiscal policy. “The budget problems that resulted from this past recession were really historic.” That, he continued, resulted in states being faced with a difficult choice for their school systems — to raise revenue through taxes during an economic downturn or cut school funding. The majority of states opted at least in part for education cuts.
Of the seven states with at least a 15% decline in school funding between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2014, five actually further limited their revenue by cutting income taxes.
Schools rely on three main sources for their funds: local/municipal, state and federal. Nationally, states account for roughly 44% of total education funding.
The decline in funding came at a particularly bad time for many school systems, explained Leachman. While the federal government initially provided emergency funds to schools through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, those funds are now gone, and Washington has initiated cuts of its own. At the same time, local funding took a hit when property values declined during the recession. The decline in both federal and local funding, explained Leachman, is “why the state aid cuts really bite. They’re putting schools between a rock and a hard place.”
Many of the states that are cutting funding are arguably the ones that can least afford it in the long term. Based on Education Week’s most recent assessment of schools, five of the seven states with the largest declines in education funding scored a D+ or worse in their K-12 achievement, as measured by standardized test scores.
These states also have among the lowest levels of educational attainment. Five of the seven states had below-average rates of adults with high school diplomas. Only one was above the national rate of adults with college degrees.
“It is very troubling that so many states have cut their school spending by so much,” noted Leachman. “We’re in a 21st-century economy where we know education is increasingly important. For the jobs of the future, more and more are going to require a higher level of education. You’re putting yourself at a disadvantage if you’re not producing a workforce that has that level of education,” he added.
Based on the CBPP report, “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the seven states with at least 15% declines in state education grant money between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2014. In addition to CBPP data on school budgets, we reviewed 2012 educational attainment and income data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. We also looked at educational achievement and National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test scores, as compiled by Education Week in its 2013 “Quality Counts” report.
These are the seven states slashing school spending.