In a December 2018 report, the U.S. Department of Education quietly noted an important milestone: spending by state and local governments, on average, was strong enough during the 2015-16 school year to return annual per-student spending to what it had been before 2008-9 recession and even grew above the pre-recession peak. This 2015-16 spending represents a 1 percent real improvement over that previous high point. These national numbers are just averages. Some states spent more than double what other states spent. While many states increased financing for schools, others did not. In a few states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, education spending remained lower than it was before the recession, after adjusting for inflation. “There is more spread across states in state and local funding than ever before,” wrote Marguerite Roza, the director of the Edunomics Lab, in an e-mail. “While the national averages tell one story, that story may not apply to some states.”
The annual mean wage for teachers in California is $74,940 and $75,000 in the LAUSD, and while teacher pay is a significant issue for protesting educators, the current teachers strike in Los Angeles is also about class size. In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Alex Caputo-Pearl explains why class size was such an important issue for educators. “Class sizes often exceed 45 students in secondary schools; 35 students in upper elementary grades; and 25 students in lower elementary grades,” he writes. “It is downright shameful that the richest state in the country ranks 43rd out of 50 when it comes to per-pupil spending.
The cost of sending students with disabilities to private schools has doubled since de Blasio was sworn in and has reached $325 million per year. Officials said 4,431 students with disabilities attended private schools paid for by the education department in fiscal year 2017, according to the most recent data obtained by Chalkbeat, a third more than in 2014. The sharp increase is notable because it suggests the city is increasingly acknowledging that it can’t provide an adequate education to students with disabilities within traditional public schools. Chancellor Richard Carranza acknowledged that the city doesn’t offer the full range of programs that are listed on student’s learning plans but argued it would be more cost effective for the city to create programs on its own.
How many K-12 public schools, districts, and students are there? And how much are we, as a nation, spending on the education of these youth? The Education Week library provides answers to these questions. In 2014-15, $625 billion was spent on public elementary and secondary education by local, state, and federal agencies. On average, the nation spends $12,536 to educate each student. These expenditures vary state to state. Vermont has the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation at $20,795, as adjusted for variations in regional costs. At the other end of the scale, Utah spends the least at $7,207 per student.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other lawmakers have promised they will tackle “school finance” in the 2019 legislative session, but it’s already clear that not everyone is talking about the same thing. Those folks are all signaling an urgency, but their priorities differ: Property tax relief? Leveling the state and local shares of public education spending? More money for schools? This much is clear: They don’t have the money on hand to do much of anything with even one of those questions. That raises another question: How will they pay for whatever they decide to do? Even if it’s possible to line up the priorities, the numbers are daunting. Local taxpayers will be on the hook for 55.5 percent of the cost of public education in 2019, according to estimates by the Legislative Budget Board. The state will be responsible for 35 percent, and the federal government will make up the rest.
“Throwing money at the problem” has long gotten a bad rap in education. But a string of recent studies have undermined that perspective. Now, a new review of research drives another nail into the argument’s coffin. The review looks closely at 13 studies focused on schools nationwide or in multiple states. Twelve found that spending more money meant statistically significant benefits for students, including rising test scores and high school graduation rates. Students saw big gains in school districts where spending jumped between 1972 and 1990, one study found. A 10 percent increase in spending across a student’s 12 years in public school led students to complete an additional one-third of a year of school and boosted their adult wages by 7 percent. The gains were largest for low-income kids.
Despite a growing chorus of teachers and public school advocates complaining about America’s spending on its public schools, spending actually increased 2.9 percent between fiscal year 2015 and 2016, according to a report released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics. America collected $678.4 billion for its public schools in the 2016 fiscal year and spent $596.1 billion. Local revenue increased by 3.7 percent, state revenue increased by 4.9 percent, and federal revenue increased by 1.1 percent in that same fiscal year.
In the 21st century, local control of education should mean providing educators with autonomy in the classroom and giving parents meaningful options to hold them accountable for outcomes. This requires portable funding where money follows a child to their school of choice and is best supported by an entirely counterintuitive reform: centralizing funding in order to decentralize education. The most effective way to accomplish this is to move away from local education revenues entirely and adopt a full-state funding model. In this model, states would allocate dollars based on the weighting of each student according to their needs, known as “weighted student formula.” This approach to school finance promotes choice, fairness and accountability while also helping to break up districts’ geographic monopolies.
“Taxes are just a very difficult conversation,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. Coloradans…rejected a ballot initiative last week to pay for schools by raising corporate taxes and personal income taxes on those earning over $150,000 a year. The teachers’ movement was not without its wins last week. Voters did open their pocketbooks for local classrooms, if not for those statewide. In Miami; Toledo, Ohio; Charleston, W.Va.; and other cities, they raised or renewed municipal taxes to finance their own districts, demonstrating that the most popular school spending, unsurprisingly, happens closest to home.
Funding was the prime education theme in this year’s state midterm elections, fueling debates over teacher pay and more money for local schools, as well as testing voters’ appetite for tax hikes to raise that money. Brutal legislative battles are likely in store for Democrats Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Laura Kelly in Kansas, two governors-elect who scored upsets after campaigning hard on the prospect of millions more for schools. Similarly, public school activists in Arizona, Colorado, and Hawaii will have to go back to the drawing board after measures they backed to tax wealthy residents in order to shore up their financially strapped public schools were either knocked off the ballot by the courts or soundly defeated on Election Day.