America’s public school system today costs taxpayers over two-and-a-half times more that it did half a century ago—far outstripping changes in enrollment over that time. When federal, state, and local spending is taken together, it stands as one of government’s most-expensive endeavors… It’s clear, however, that K-12 advocates, politicians, the courts, and others over the years have raised expectations of what schools should provide and to whom, and that it takes money to meet those demands. Here are some significant milestones.
The share of the federal budget that goes toward children, including education spending, dipped to just below 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018—the lowest level in the decade. That’s one main conclusion from a new Urban Institute report on federal spending focused on children, including K-12, health care, nutrition, and various tax benefits. However, the report also found that the share of federal aid for children that’s targeted specifically at those from low-income families has grown recently, reaching 61 percent of such spending in 2018. The organization forecasts a gloomier outlook for fans of Washington spending on kids in the next decade. In 2029, interest payments on the national debt are expected to significantly outpace federal spending on children, the Urban Institute says. The report states that share of the budget dedicated to children will get squeezed not just by interest payments on the debt, but also by the growth of mandatory spending on programs like Social Security and Medicare that will serve an aging population.
High school career and technical education (CTE) courses use computers, simulators and other forms of high-tech equipment and digital learning that can be overwhelmingly expensive for districts. To help offset the cost of these programs, the U.S. Department of Education provides about $1.3 billion per year for CTE courses at the elementary, secondary and adult levels. Recently, the Pathways to STEM Apprenticeship program provided $3 million to six states to help CTE students acquire post-secondary education and link them to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Other models for states short on labor include New Jersey’s efforts to use county-run, work-based programs to train high school students to enter the workforce. School leaders are developing relationships with businesses, industries and community colleges to better understand employers’ needs.
Twenty-five percent of respondents to a recent national poll identified “a lack of financial support” as one of the biggest problems facing public schools in their communities. The findings follow waves of teacher activism to push for more state funding, salary increases, and other policy changes. While many of those demonstrations saw broad support, the public hasn’t always put its money where its mouth is. In Los Angeles, for example, voters struck down a ballot measure that would have helped pay for changes teachers won through strikes in the nation’s second-largest school district. Where should that additional financial support come from? Seven in 10 adults and six in 10 teachers responding to the poll said they would rather see cuts in other government-funded services than tax increases.
In 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available, only 12 states allocated more funds to districts in which student poverty is high than to districts in which there is little or no poverty. And of these 12 states, only five — Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Wyoming — also funded education at a level of adequacy that enables students to receive the resources they need. This article outlines steps that federal and state governments can take to make a difference in achieving greater equity and adequacy in school funding, including redesigning school finance formulas to focus on pupil needs, for example, through weighted student formulas that add additional funds for pupil characteristics such as poverty.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos issued final guidance Thursday on how districts can comply with a rule that federal funds are used to supplement and not replace state and local dollars for education. The guidance says districts must show the methods they use to allocate state and local funds are “Title I neutral.” In other words, schools should receive all of the state and local funds they would receive if they were not Title I schools — but districts are not required to spell out which costs or services paid for with Title I dollars are supplemental. The new rule is intended to “reduce administrative burden, simplify compliance and promote effective spending,” according to the Department of Education press release.
Despite years of states pumping more money into schools, at least 22 states plus Washington D.C., up through 2017, still had not reached pre-recession funding levels, according to the CBPP. In Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Florida, funding remains more than 10 percent below pre-recession levels, according to the study. The threat of another recession has school finance analysts warning districts to judiciously spend any extra money they get this year. Set aside money in an emergency fund, they advise, and think twice before giving teachers permanent raises that might be unsustainable.
Title I explained: 5 things educators need to understand about federal money for students in poverty
Nearly every district in the country receives at least some money through Title I, the $15.4 billion federal program to help educate low-income students. Yet few completely understand the formulas used to provide those funds from year to year. Policymakers have long debated ways to update Title I, which dates back to the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act. A National Center for Education Statistics’ report released this month details how big a challenge it will be for Congress to overhaul support for the country’s neediest students. The more than 250-page report is worth a read, but Education Week highlights five critical things to understand.
Overall, the report found that the federal government gave the most Title I dollars to the most densely and the least densely populated areas – namely, large cities and remote rural areas. While the poorest districts had the highest total Title I allocations per child at about $1,400, and the least-poor districts – those with the lowest poverty – had the lowest total Title I allocations per child, the latter still received more than $1,000 per child. Notably, 95 percent of children helped by Title I dollars are on the receiving end because of a rule that allows schools where more than 40% of enrolled students qualify for Title I to use the funding for all students, regardless of whether they are eligible. That means that even though there are only about 12 million students considered eligible, Title I money ends up flowing to about 25 million students – nearly half of all public K-12 students in the U.S.
New historical federal data shows school spending in recent years continued to climb as state and local sales, income and property tax revenue rebounded. The National Center for Education Statistics this week reported that K-12 revenue was up 3.2 percent between fiscal years 2015 and 2016 and spending in fiscal year 2016 climbed 2.4 percent to around $10,800 per student. The report provides an annual detailed look at the most recently available federal, state, and local spending on districts across the country. While lagging by three years, it shows that K-12 revenue and spending since the recession continued to tick upward for rural, suburban and urban districts across the country.