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Resources Tight as New School Year Starts

With K-12 schools opening around the country, here’s a quick look at the funding challenges many of them 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 25 states provided less “general” or “formula” funding ― the primary form of state funding for schools ― per student last year than in 2008, before the recession took hold.  In seven states, the cuts exceeded 10 percent.
  • Some 45 percent of school funding comes from localities, and that’s down in many states as well.  Local funding per student fell in 31 states between the 2008 and 2014 school years — the last year for which we have 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 4 percent below its 2008 level after adjusting for inflation.
  • Funding for school construction and other school capital projects has fallen sharply.  School capital spending by states and localities fell an astonishing 37 percent between 2008 and 2014 (the latest year available), after adjusting for inflation.  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 241,000 since peaking in August 2008.  Over roughly the same period, the number of children enrolled in schools has risen by about 1.1 million (see graph). 

In short, 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.