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Governors’ Rhetoric, Budgets Don’t Match on Education Funding

Governors in some states that have made deep cuts to K-12 education funding since the recession started are proposing to restore some of that funding next year.  The proposals are a welcome departure from the relentless cuts of recent years.  But, in a number of states, they would leave funding well below pre-recession levels.  For example:

  • Florida Governor Rick Scott, calling for a $1 billion increase, said, “Floridians truly believe that support for education is the most significant thing we can do to ensure both short-term job growth and long-term economic prosperity for our state.”  But Scott’s proposal would only translate into an additional $50 per pupil, after adjusting for inflation.  That’s far from enough to offset Florida’s $1,417 per-pupil cut of the last four years and would leave per-pupil funding 18 percent below pre-recession levels.  (All figures in this post refer to states’ general-purpose “formula funding” for education; see here for details.)
  • Utah Governor Gary Herbert, calling for $41 million in additional K-12 education funding to support enrollment growth, said, “I think it is absolutely imperative for our long-term economic stability that we fund education.”  But, on a per-pupil basis, Herbert’s proposal would actually cut funding by about $68 (1 percent), after adjusting for inflation.  Coming on top of a $636 reduction in per-pupil spending over the last four years, it would leave per-pupil funding 12 percent below pre-recession levels.
  • Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, highlighting a $438 million increase in K-12 spending in his two-year budget, said, “When deciding where to move or expand, businesses look for a well-educated and well trained workforce.  We owe every student the opportunity to be career-ready or college-ready when they graduate from high school.”  But McDonnell’s proposal only translates into a $58 (1 percent) increase in real per-pupil funding.  That’s a fraction of the $802 cut the state has made since fiscal year 2008 and would leave per-pupil funding 12 percent below pre-recession levels.

All of these governors could have done more to restore education funding, since none proposes to raise significant additional revenue.

States are in the midst of a long and uncertain recovery from the revenue collapse that followed the Great Recession, and it will take years before revenues reach levels adequate to sustain services at anywhere near pre-recession levels.  If states really want to make up for the severe cuts of recent years without cutting into other critical services, they must consider raising additional revenues.