States continue to make harsh cuts to their education budgets and the consequences are particularly severe for children from low-income districts, according to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report reveals that elementary and high schools in 26 states will receive less state funding for 2012-2013 than they did in the previous school year, and a total of 35 states still have funding levels for education below what they were in 2008 (after adjusting for inflation).
The authors describe how rather than pursing a “more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases” in response to the recession in late 2007, states made heavy cuts to their budgets, slashing funding for schools and other public services. Arizona, Alabama, and Oklahoma have each cut per-pupil funding by more than 20% since 2008. As a result of these drastic cuts, even states that are starting to increase their budgets have a long way to go to make up for the reductions over the past four years. South Carolina, for example, added $207 to per pupil spending, hardly making up the $746 cuts it made over the past few years. Florida also increased funding this year, by $273, but since 2008 it has cut per pupil spending by $569.
The report explains how under the current school funding systems, state aid cuts typically hurt students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who already classified as “high-need” children, “unless a state goes out of its way to protect them.” Since federal stimulus aid expired at the end of the 2011 fiscal year, schools depend even more on state funds to continue to provide adequate education to their students. About 44 percent of total education expenditures in the United States come from state funds, leaving districts the option of raising local tax revenues or reducing educational services to make up for cuts in state education budgets. For high-poverty districts, slashing educational programs is often the only viable path.
In addition to documenting the extent to which states have cut education funding, the authors examined the effects of these cuts on educational opportunities for children across the country, as well as the effects on the economy. They cited numerous studies showing that cuts are impeding efforts to improve schools through reform initiatives such as lengthening the school day, improving professional development, and expanding early childhood education: “The cuts counteract and sometimes undermine education reform and more generally hinder the ability of school districts to deliver high-quality education.” The authors demonstrated how the cuts will have a negative impact on the economy in both the short-term – laying off school personnel, reducing pay, and canceling contracts with suppliers — and the long-term – hampering the ability to ensure a well-educated workforce.
While states have continued to provide less funding to schools, they have also engaged in a movement to bring more students to higher levels of academic proficiency. Labeling the restoration of K-12 funding as an “urgent priority,” the report calls on states to raise additional revenues and avoid the “serious consequences for the nation” of failing to invest in schools.