Across Colorado, an increasingly affluent state which boasts powerful job growth and one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the country, public K-12 systems are in deep trouble. Collectively, officials say, Colorado’s 178 school districts have more than $14 billion in infrastructure needs. Spending per student is well below the national average of approximately $12,500 — even below Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico, which in 2017 posted the nation’s highest poverty rates. Budget shortfalls have stalled teacher pay and forced more than half of all districts to put one or more schools on a four-day week, the largest proportion in the country. Some of the pressures can be traced to the Great Recession, when Colorado, like many states, slashed K-12 funding. The effects lingered. Over the past several years, however, Colorado’s economy has rebounded and boomed. Tax-adverse voters have not responded. They have repeatedly rejected attempts to raise levies to prop up underfunded school districts, including $1.6 billion statewide initiative in 2018 that would have helped districts cover escalating operating expenses.
In order to meet ESSA’s requirement that they calculate and report how much gets spent in each school, state and local officials have had to separate out overhead and classroom costs, an arduous, months-long process. Several states had to purchase new school finance software or rejigger existing school finance software in order to figure out new categories of spending. According to an analysis by Edunomics, a school finance think tank at Georgetown University, at least 14 states now have published school-by-school spending amounts. Using this data, state lawmakers in New York and Georgia already have used the school spending amounts as a tool to scrutinize how districts spend a growing pot of state funds. That process has been politically contentious.
The American Federation of Teachers, the 1.7 million-member teachers union, announced a major education initiative Monday aimed at pressing lawmakers in state capitals and Congress to increase funding for public schools and universities. The initiative, Fund Our Future, focuses on the fact that 25 states spend less on K-12 than they did before the Great Recession in 2008 and 41 states spend less on higher education. It calls on state lawmakers to prioritize education and higher education spending, especially for the most disadvantaged students, including students of color, students with disabilities and those still learning English.
When the Hawaii Department of Education turned to a new “weighted student formula” to fund schools, a pressing concern was how that model might negatively impact geographically isolated schools with low student enrollment. Hana High and Elementary, a K-12 school on Maui’s east side, has seen its budget reduced by a third from nearly $3 million in the 2008-09 school year to $2 million in the 2016-17 school year… “It works for 98 percent of schools,” Hana’s recently retired principal, Richard Paul, said of the weighted student formula. “But it doesn’t work for us.” In the seven years since the formula took effect in Hawaii in 2006-7 to 2012-13, the total amount of dollars allocated to public schools increased by 11.3 percent, from $655.4 million to $729.7 million, according to a June 2013 assessment of the weighted student formula done by the American Institutes for Research. But some argue the system hammers the smallest schools, which sometimes don’t receive enough money through total pupil head count to afford to have someone teach just one subject or even supply textbooks.
Most states have experienced strong revenue growth in fiscal 2018 and 2019, and with that financial running room, many of those state leaders are signaling that they want to channel a “significant portion” of those resources into education, explains the National Association of State Budget Officers. While it’s not unusual in a good budget year for governors to tout plans for more money for schools, what’s striking is the scope of the proposals this year, said Kathryn Vesey White, the director of budget process studies at NASBO. The flow of new money hasn’t necessarily brought consensus on what to do with it. Governors and lawmakers in some states are deciding whether to pursue new spending on education or bank that money for a rainy day.
States have collectively scaled back their annual higher education funding by $9 billion over the last 10 years, when adjusted for inflation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports. State appropriations per full-time student have fallen from an inflation-adjusted $8,489 in 2007 to $7,642 in 2017, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. That has pushed up the portion of university budgets that come from students to $6,572 from $4,817 over the same 10 years. Ten years ago, students and their families paid for about a third of university operating costs…now they pay for nearly half.
America’s $23 billion school funding gap: Despite court rulings on equity, new report finds startling racial imbalance
Despite pivotal finance rulings, school funding in New Jersey, California, and New York remains among the most inequitable in the nation according to the new report by EdBuild, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on education spending. Nationally, EdBuild researchers found that school districts that mostly serve nonwhite students get $23 billion less in state and local spending each year than those with predominantly white student populations — even though they educate roughly the same number of children. Racial disparities in funding persisted even when poverty was considered. Nationally, poor white districts received nearly $1,500 more per student than districts serving poor nonwhite kids. Poor nonwhite districts got less money than low-income white districts in 17 states and they got more in 12 states.
Just hours after West Virginia teachers went on strike for the second time in a year, the state House of Delegates voted, 53-45, to indefinitely table an omnibus education bill the educators saw as retaliation for the job action they took last February. But while Senate Bill 451 — loathed by teachers because it proposed establishing the state’s first charter schools and funds for private school vouchers — appeared dead, the state’s three biggest teachers’ unions continued the strike for a second day on Wednesday to “make sure this is a dead deal.” The vote prompted the teachers’ unions to announce they would return to classes on Thursday.
Amid threatened teacher strikes and budget surpluses, more than 15 governors so far this year have recommended that their state boost teachers’ pay, according to an Education Week analysis of State of the State addresses. In states across the South and West—including in Arizona, Idaho, and West Virginia, where chronically low teacher pay has inflamed teacher shortages and caused political angst—governors are urging legislators in proposed budgets to provide teachers next year with anywhere from a 2 percent raise in North Dakota to a 20 percent raise in Arizona. Other governors, such as in Arkansas and Maine, want to raise their state’s minimum pay for teachers.
In the past, a school day was mandated by Illinois to be five hours of direct supervision by a teacher, and how the state funded schools was based on student attendance during those days. In August 2017, the evidence-based funding formula was signed in to law, shifting the way state money is allocated to school enrollment figures and the number of students in need of extra supports. Because funding was no longer tied to attendance, the law also opened the door to more flexibility in terms of where and how students received instruction. Naperville District 203 has already taken great steps at the high school level toward making e-Learning days a reality by offering more blended classes, which combines direct-teaching days with days for independent online instruction.