States have cut education funding deeply since the start of the recession and, in many states, those cuts deepened over the last year. Per-pupil school funding in 35 states now stands below 2008 levels — often far below — our updated analysis shows (see chart).
Our review of state budgets also found:
Seventeen states have cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent from 2008 levels. Three states — Arizona, Alabama, and Oklahoma — each have cut per-pupil funding to K-12 schools by more than 20 percent.
Twenty-six states are providing less per-student funding to local school districts in the new school year than they did a year ago.
With state revenues beginning to rebound, some states have started to restore their school funding, but generally not enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, Florida is increasing school funding by $273 per pupil this year. But that’s not nearly enough to offset the state’s $569 per-pupil cut over the previous four years.
Restoring school funding should be an urgent priority. The steep state-level K-12 spending cuts of the last several years have had serious consequences for the nation.
State cuts to local school districts meant that districts had to either scale back the educational services they provide, raise more local tax revenue to cover the gap — a politically difficult feat — or both. Over the short term, education funding cuts can slow the pace of economic recovery. For example, by July 2012, local school districts had cut 328,000 jobs over four years — job losses that reduced the purchasing power of workers’ families, in turn reducing consumption in the economy.
In the longer term, these cuts may drag down the nation’s economic competitiveness. Many states and school districts have undertaken important school reform initiatives, like extended learning time, and high-quality early education, to prepare children better for the future. But, deep funding cuts hamper their ability to implement many of these reforms. With the nation trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, large cuts in funding for basic education threaten to undermine a crucial building block for future prosperity.
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