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Why Are States Across the Nation Cutting School Funding?

Michael Nutter

October 11, 2017

The after-effects of the Great Recession continue to prevent adequate public school funding at the state level.

One thing that all Americans can agree on is the importance of a quality education. That consensus makes the deep cuts to educational spending over the last decade baffling to so many both in and outside our public school system. Given our strong belief in educational excellence, why has funding for school districts continued to slide?

It started in response to the Great Recession, as funding for public schools in the United States decreased to match the plummeting economy (more dramatically in some states than in others). In the near-decade since then, the implementation of critical educational reforms relating to hiring and retaining top-notch teachers, reducing class sizes, expanding access to high-quality early education, and increasing student learning time has been all but impossible.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that, as of the 2015-2016 school year, “at least 25 states are still providing less ‘general’ or ‘formula’ funding — the primary form of state funding for schools — per student than in 2008.” This, incredibly, represents solid progress since the 2013-2014 school year, when at least 31 states provided less per-student funding than in 2008. As a result, the number of teachers and other school employees in the K-12 system has fallen by nearly 300,000 since the recession, yet the number of students attending these schools has risen by more than 800,000.

Balancing Budgets Through Spending Cuts

Ultimately, political gridlock has been the primary driver of these cuts, as they’ve prevented the federal government from drafting a balanced budget in the years since the recession.

After the housing bubble burst, property values across the country plummeted. As a result, American homeowners have become much more hesitant to borrow against their home equity in order to make large purchases. This trend has led to lower state income tax and sales tax revenues — both significant contributors to many states’ education funding pools.

In response, the majority of states have been forced to reduce funding for a wide range of services — not only in regards to education, but also programs like healthcare and public transportation. Between 2008 and 2012, 45% of states closed their budget shortfalls through spending cuts. The rest of the states balanced their budgets using federal aid, revenue reserves, and a number of other measures, but these remedies rarely resulted in increased education spending.

The Importance of Proper Data Management

For individual school districts, these ongoing funding cuts mean that they must secure every last penny to which they are entitled, and this begins with proper data tracking and reporting.

Every data point counts towards a school district’s bottom line, and at Vinson Consulting Group, our mission is to ensure that schools receive the full funding they deserve. By ensuring that a district’s EMIS data is both accurate and compliant, we help superintendents and district treasurers feel confident that their schools are getting as many resources as possible to prepare each generation of students for great careers and livelihoods.

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