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K-12 Funding Cuts Persist

December 10, 2015 at 11:15 AM

Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the Great Recession, as we detail in a new paper. Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold. 

Our country’s future depends heavily on the quality of its schools, yet rather than raising K-12 funding to support proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding access to high-quality early education, many states have headed in the opposite direction.  By cutting K-12 funding, these states are weakening schools’ capacity to develop the skills and creativity of the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs. 

Our survey of the most up-to-date data on state and local funding for schools finds that, after adjusting for inflation:

  • At least 31 states provided less state funding per student in the 2014 school year (that is, the school year ending in 2014) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold.  In at least 15 states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
  • In at least 18 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period.  In at least 27 states, local funding rose, but those increases rarely made up for cuts in state support.  Total local funding nationally — for the states where comparable data exist — declined between 2008 and 2014, adding to the damage from state funding cuts.
  • While data on total school funding in the current school year (2016) is not yet available, at least 25 states are still providing less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student than in 2008.  In seven states, the cuts exceed 10 percent.
  • Most states raised “general” funding per student somewhat this year, but 12 states imposed new cuts, even as the national economy continues to improve.  Some of these states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin, already were among the deepest-cutting states since the recession hit. 

Steep state-level K-12 spending cuts have serious consequences.  As common sense suggests, money matters for educational outcomes.  For instance, poor children who attend better-funded schools are more likely to complete high school and have higher earnings and less poverty in adulthood.  Restoring school funding should be an urgent priority.  


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