While the rest of the world was celebrating the passage of an ESEA (only eight years or so late! yay!) or looking at NEPC's brutal-but-necessary report on the charter gravy train, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities was releasing the results of its three-month study of state funding for education over the last almost-decade.
The first part of the story is familiar. Back around 2008, the Great Recession hit. Although, let's not say "hit" and give it a fancy name as if it were some random act of nature and not a predictable and avoidable economic collapse caused by reckless greedheads on Wall Street. Instead of a Great Recession that somehow happened, maybe we could instead refer to that time that Wall Street screwed over every American in a series of criminal and stupid acts so huge that they have yet to be paid for their misbehavior in the slightest. Let's call it that.
But I digress. Wall Street tanked the economy, resulting in a big bunch of cutbacks as every state tried to deal with a sudden lack of money. That part of the story we already knew.
The second part of the story, which you may have suspected, is that once states got in the habit of slashing education budgets, the just kept on doing it even after the economy began to recover. CBPP does not bury the lede on this one:
Most states provide less support per student for elementary and
secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the Great
The report breaks it down. 31 states provide less funding in 2014 than they did in 2008. In at least 15 states, the difference is 10% or greater.
In at least 18 states, local funding fell as well. In at least 27 states, local spending rose, but not enough to offset state level cuts.
The champs are Arizona and Alabama, where state education funding dropped by more than 20%. North Dakota increased education spending by a whopping 90%. And while the report is useful, more digging could be done-- Pennsylvania has raised school funding since 2008 as reported, but that's because 2008 represents a huge drop from 2007.
"Well, " you may say. "Could this precipitous and widespread droppage be influenced by enrollment. Maybe Arizona and Alabama cut spending because those states no longer have all that many young 'uns."
The report is way ahead of you, breaking numbers down by Per Student dollars as well and-- whoops! Sorry, Arizona and Alabama. You are still numbers 2 and 3 on the education budget slashing list. Oklahom was in the top ten on general cutting, but leaps to number one when we price it all out by students. And some states (lookin' at you, Kansas) have made their funding formulas so obtuse that a completely clear comparison across the years is difficult.
Why the drop in funding? The report suggests five reasons.
1) States have been slow to recover
2) States used budget cuts to fix their recession problems
3) The feds have cut aid to states
4) Costs are rising
5) Some states have slashed taxes big time.
In fact, number 5 is pretty powerful. Of the five top spending cut states, four have also cut income taxes (Oklahoma, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Idaho). So schools may be starving for support, but at least rich people got to keep more of their money (because after forty years or so of hopelessly waiting, we're still sure that trickle-down economics will start working any day now).
The report concludes by stating the blindingly obvious (it must be blindingly obvious, because so many policy makers in states fail to see it)-- when you slash education spending, bad things happen and a bunch of good things don't happen.
The report is worth a look, and you'll want to see how your own state stacks up. Check it out, and on this Happy ESSA Day, contemplate how states have been slowly flushing their schools down the financial toilet while Congress has been trying to pass an education bill.