Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo

Public school funding has declined in most states since 2008, report says

Great Recession has had long-term effect on school funding, putting education quality at risk, new study funds

Public schools in most of the United States are receiving less state funding now than seven years ago, putting at risk the quality of education for many students, a new report shows.

The study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that at least 31 states provided less funding per student in the 2014 school year than in 2008.

In at least 15 states, the funding for K-12 education is down 10 percent or more.

“Our country’s future depends crucially 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,” the report said.

After the Great Recession hit in 2008, many states cut funding to education and other services. The report spotlights the high number of states that have still — eight years later — failed to restore funding even to 2008 levels.

One reason for this trend is that during the recession many states made funding cuts without also increasing revenues, such as by raising taxes or fees, said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and one of the report's authors.

“Too many states took an approach that relied too heavily on cuts only and not a more balanced approach that included some cuts and some revenue increases,” Leachman said. “That’s part of why we have the problem that we do.”

In an attempt to make up for the state education cuts, many local districts around the country increased funding for their schools, such as by hiking property taxes.

Local funding for schools increased in at least 27 states since 2008, but it rarely made up for state funding cuts.

And not all local districts stepped up: In at least 18 states, local government funding for schools also decreased over this period, the report showed.

Overall, total local funding nationally, for states where comparable data exists, fell between 2008 and 2014, compounding the effect of state funding cuts.

Public schools in the U.S. get nearly all of their funding from local and state government. Only 9 percent of their money comes from the federal government.

In some states, school funding cuts over the past several years have been drastic.

Arizona slashed its funding for K-12 education by 23.3 percent from 2008 to 2014, leaving it up to local governments to try to cover the gap. Combined, state and local funding for Arizona public schools is down by 15.7 percent from pre-recession levels.

“This is a state where there are some people in the Legislature talking about another major round of tax cuts in the coming legislative session,” said Leachman. “If that happens in a state that has already imposed extreme cuts to its schools, their ability to produce the work force of the future is really going to be diminished.”

Arizona is one of 12 states — including Oklahoma and Wisconsin — that this year imposed new cuts in school funding.

States that have increased education funding since 2008 include Illinois, Alaska, Vermont and Connecticut.

North Dakota is an outlier. It increased its education funding by an astounding 90.7 percent between 2008 and 2014. Leachman noted that the state experienced an oil boom and took over school funding from its local governments.  

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