Funding Changes and Public School Spending by Student

Connexeo - 02/15/2018

On the surface, it would appear that New York and Alaska are the states most generous to education funding, while Utah and Idaho are the least giving. But a ranking of the states hides the real story, which is that education funding in many states has declined precipitously in the past 10 years.

While per-student spending has increased 11.0% nationwide from 2008-2015 (the latest data available), much of that increase comes from six states that have raised funding by more than 15% over that period. In all, 29 states have decreased education funding since 2008, according to U.S. Census statistics. State coffers provided 47% of all school funding as of 2015, with local revenue contributing 45%.

Twelve of the 29 states that have cut school funding have reduced maintenance and operations spending by more than 7% in the decade from 2008-2018, according to a study conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Properties. The good news is that some states have increased school funding in the past three years, though they have yet to regain all of the funding lost in the previous seven years.

The Census Bureau report found that New York state spent an average of $21,206 per student per year, while Alaska earmarked $20,172 per student and Washington, DC spent $19,396. At the bottom of the chart were Utah ($6,575) and Idaho ($6,923).   

Here’s a comparison of the top and bottom 10 states for school funding in 2015 and their increase or decrease in state money from 2008-2015.

Bottom 10 States for School Funding 2008-2015

New York and New Jersey remain at or near the top of the leader board – after spending cuts of just less than 3% primarily because those states are among the most expensive for almost everything. A living wage there is much higher than those of other states, meaning that much more spent on salaries. Maintenance costs also exceed those of other states. Connecticut and Pennsylvania seem to understand costs are rising.

School Spending Cuts

While the Southern and Western states that comprise the bottom-10 list do have lower costs of living than Northeastern states, that doesn’t account for the drastic cuts in all of these states, except Tennessee. The cuts in Arizona, Florida and Texas reflect a growing trend toward shifting responsibilities to the local school districts. Texas contributed 40% of school funding this year, compared to 46% in 2012, according to the legislative budget board. Recovery from the recession is a primary reason for such cuts.

Sticking to Texas, the state has also capped property tax rates that school districts can charge. The maintenance and operations rate is maximized at $1.04 per $1,000 valuation unless voters agree to a higher rate up to $1.17. That does not include bond debt, which also faces limitations.

So, with dwindling state funding and limitations on tax hikes – which many residents support so they’re not overtaxed – it’s no wonder public schools are in a money crunch. Most of the states that have raised the amounts they earmark for schools are simply adjusting for inflation.

Exceptions to this are North Dakota, which has nearly doubled its education spending from 2008-2015 (+96.2%), Illinois (+30.8%), Alaska (+27.6%) and Iowa (+20.6%).

The trend toward declining state help for education has affected programs and hiring. Some constituents want even more cuts to extracurricular programs so taxes can be reduced further. Those generally include fine and performing arts and language programs.

With the economy still in growth mode, perhaps some of this funding can be restored in the near future.

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