By Kevin Suddason
From kindergarten to high school, the quality of education is declining in about half of the United States. According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there is one main reason: declining funding for schools from kindergarten to high school.
This decline in funding began after the 2008 recession, when states reduced financial support for schools. The economic crash led to lower revenues from sales and income taxes, and that resulted in less money for states to invest in schools.
“In 31 states, total state funding per student was lower in the school year 2014 than in the 2008 school year, before the recession really took hold,” Michael Leachman, co-author of the report and the center’s director of state fiscal research. Across the U.S., local funding has also declined.
State and local funding are the two main revenue sources for public schools. The report found that, when adjusted for inflation, as of 2013, nearly half of the total K-12 education financing came from states. Forty-five percent came from local governments, and the rest from federal funds.
This state funding decline, which varies across the country, has taken place while property tax revenue, which accounts for local government school funding, also plunged in the 2008 real estate crash. This overall funding discrepancy has had consequences on the quality of education.
“State-level K-12 cuts have large consequences for local school districts. These consequences are real and damaging,” Leachman said. Smaller budgets mean shorter school years, layoffs and bigger classes.
In Arizona, the state with the deepest budget cuts, legislators have eliminated funding for full-day kindergarten. Some school districts responded by offering only half-day programs.
Shrunken budgets also imply difficulties in recruiting and retaining talented teachers, Leachman said.
In 38 states, the average teacher salary declined from 2010 to 2013. In Kansas and Arizona, two states with particularly deep budget cuts, teacher shortages have reached an alarming level. Schools are now relying more on unlicensed teachers and substitutes, which Leachman said is “hardly a recipe for improving teacher quality.”
Not only have students been affected, but entire families and the national economy have also taken blows.
According to the report, local school districts have cut 297,000 jobs since 2008. These job losses have resulted in the reduction of purchasing power of thousands of working families across the U.S. and have made the post-recession recovery process slower, Leachman said.
The data came from Bureau of Labor Statistics, but there’s no long-term data tracking what happened to the teachers and school workers who lost their jobs.
“Evidence suggests that smaller class sizes can boost student achievements, especially in the early grades and for low-income students. But smaller class sizes are difficult to sustain when teachers are laid off and enrollment is increased,” Leachman said.
The report found that the number of students has risen by 804,000.
Without a well-educated workforce, the report warns, businesses will fail to prosper, and economic growth will be hampered. If these state K-12 cuts now represent savings, Leachman projected that, in the long run, they will cost more in diminished economic growth.
The report found that 35 states raised per-student funding for the 2015-2016 school year compared to the previous school year. Of these, 14 raised per-student finding above the pre-recession level. North Dakota led all 50 states by providing 25.9 percent more money per student than in 2008. Alaska and Washington increased their per-student funding by over 15 percent.
In most cases, though, the report found that these raises were not enough to offset earlier cuts. For example, Michigan, which raised per-pupil funding by $45 this year, has yet to overcome the $526 per-student cut between 2008 and 2015.
This year, 12 states cut per-student funding. Data for California, Hawaii and Kansas were not available.
Kelvin Suddason is the international Fall 2015 SHFWire reporter from the University of Mauritius.