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Many Schools Still Facing Funding Challenges as New Year Starts

School funding has been in the news a lot this year, as teachers in several states went on strike this winter and spring to protest low pay and inadequate state support. Nationally, combined state and local funding for K-12 schools has finally recovered from deep cuts made during the Great Recession, but some states still haven’t restored funding. With children now returning to school around the country, here’s a quick reminder of the funding challenges many schools face.

  • Some 47 percent of school funding comes from states, and in many states it hasn’t kept up with rising enrollment and inflation. At least 12 states have cut “general” or “formula” funding — the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools — by 7 percent or more per student since 2008, before the recession took hold. Seven of these states have also cut income taxes over the last decade, making it particularly hard for them to raise revenue needed for their schools. (They are Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.)
  • Some 45 percent of school funding comes from localities, and that’s down in many states as well. Local funding per student fell in 19 states between the 2008 and 2016 school years (the last year for which we have these data), after adjusting for inflation.
  • Federal funding, which covers the rest of school budgets, is also being squeezed. The largest federal education program, “Title I” funding for high-poverty schools, is 5 percent below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.
  • Funding for school construction and other school capital projects fell by 26 percent or nearly $21 billion between 2008 and 2016, after adjusting for inflation. States and localities raised capital spending after 2014 but not by nearly enough to offset the earlier cuts. (The federal government doesn’t directly fund school capital projects.)
  • The number of school workers — including teachers, librarians, nurses, and other staff — has fallen by about 158,000 since 2008, even as the number of enrolled children has risen by about 1.4 million (see graph).

So, even as education becomes increasingly important for success in today’s skill-based, global economy, many schools this year will have to serve more students with fewer resources.