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.
For a rural, low-income district like Greene County, where funding can sometimes be tight, the challenges are amplified by a lack of resources and access to experiences outside of the immediate community for many students. We have a good relationship with a number of employers in our region, within a 25-mile radius, said Greene County Schools Chief Academic Officer Frank Creech. They sit down together on a routine basis and have conversations around what are the skills gaps that we have, what are the opportunities for students to graduate and come back and work in the surrounding area and stay, to increase the economic development that’s going on in the area. Through those conversations, we’ve developed partnerships with some of the individual employers, and also with funders who have stepped in. And through a collaborative effort, we’ve been able to provide kids with more opportunities, more summer learning, more internships, and even some connections directly into the job market for some of our students who would prefer to do that rather than pursue a four-year college degree. Some specific examples would be a computer integrated machining program that was partially funded through the local community college, Lenoir Community College, as well as the Golden LEAF Foundation.
How are Texas school districts using state pre-K funding to expand educational options for 3- and 4-year-olds? It depends where you look. With just a few short months between the end of the legislative session and the first day of school, administrators had to tackle a catalogue of challenging tasks: hire enough teachers to meet spiking enrollment numbers, advertise the new options to parents living in district boundaries, consider transportation options, and make space in existing elementary schools or portable buildings. That was too much too soon for Frisco ISD, one of multiple school districts that could ask for a temporary waiver from offering full-day pre-K this year, because it doesn’t have enough space for extra classrooms. Lawmakers and advocates have encouraged school districts to partner with federal and private providers, including Head Start and local child care organizations, to increase the number of students they can serve and guarantee high-quality programs.
States’ spending to build, upgrade, and equip school buildings has fallen over the last decade, exacerbating budget challenges many schools already face, an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds. Thirty-eight states cut school capital spending as a share of their overall economy between 2008 and 2017, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. “As a share of the economy, state capital funding for schools— for example, to build new schools, renovate and expand facilities, and install more-modern technologies—was still down 31 percent in fiscal year 2017 compared to 2008, when the Great Recession took hold,” Michael Leachman, senior director of state fiscal research at the progressive think tank, wrote in a blog post. “That’s the equivalent of a $20 billion cut.”
Researchers have found that regional differences contribute to whether a person will achieve prosperity later in life. A child born into a family in the bottom quintile of the income distribution in Utah has a 14% chance of reaching the top 20%; in Tennessee, the number is only 7%. A new paper by Barbara Biasi, an assistant professor of economics at Yale SOM, shows that closing the gap in education spending between rich and poor school districts could make a substantial difference in economic mobility for poor children. Biasi’s study examined 13 school finance reform policies that were passed in 20 U.S. states between 1986 and 2004. She assessed how much each reform effort equalized per-student spending between high- and low-income districts. She then followed the students affected by each reform effort. She found that in those states where reform efforts led to greater equalization, the degree of intergenerational income mobility of students in the lowest quintile increased.
Amid the economic warning signs there’s the recognition that a recession, in addition to shrinking K-12 budgets and spending, could upend policies that have developed over the past decade that have prioritized equitable funding and other resources. Jess Gartner, the CEO and founder of Allovue, an education management firm that helps districts create and plan budgets, acknowledged that conversations about consolidating or closing schools that are significantly below their enrollment capacity are often difficult. But it’s better to consider the possibility and do other budget diagnostics in relatively calm circumstances than “trying to do that in the height of a crisis.” “It may well be a matter of survival for the district” she said. She said it’s also important for districts to scrutinize contracts and other expenses every year, instead of letting bureaucratic inertia take over, and to be careful not to use one-time grant or other funding for teacher positions that can’t be sustained when circumstances crunch operating budgets.
Building a smarter (and cheaper) school bus system: How a Boston-MIT partnership led to new routes that are 20% more efficient and saved the district $5 million
A team from MIT’s Operations Research Center, created an algorithm that saved Boston schools $5 million and 1 million miles driven in its first year. One of the most expensive school transportation departments in the country was able to reduce its fleet by 8 percent, the largest single year-over-year drop in district history. “They were the clear winner,” says Will Eger, Boston Public Schools’ strategic projects manager — and that winning solution, which did in just 30 minutes what used to take a team of 10 staffers 3,000 hours to accomplish, can help districts all across the nation. The best solution turned out to be not the one with the fewest buses per each school, but one that reuses buses from school to school. The ongoing work the team is doing with Boston has led…an MIT professor, to launch Dynamic Ideas, a company marketing the product to other school districts, now in the early stages of adoption.
New Hampshire received a record five-year, $46 million federal grant to expand its successful charter schools, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced Thursday. New Hampshire was one of only three states to receive 2019 grants from the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation & Improvement. The grant will cover professional development for charter school staff and board members, and spread best practices to public schools across New Hampshire. There will be $3.3 million available this year; the grant amount ramps up each year and reaches $15 million in 2023.
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.