More than two-thirds of the states are spending less on each student in K-12 education than they did before the recession hit, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Thirty-four of the 48 states it analyzed are spending less. And in more than a fourth funding is 10 percent below what it in 2008 before the crash. Alabama and Oklahoma, the states with the deepest cuts, have reduced funding by more than 20 percent since then.
Despite some recent healthy signs in state budgets, at least 15 continued cutting this year, spending less per student in the new school year than last. And even in the states that increased funding, the rise is usually not enough to make up for cuts over the past five years. New Mexico, for example, increased spending per student by $72 this year, far less than the $946 per-pupil cut it’s made over the past five years. Maine increased spending by $68 but has cut by $465.
States cut spending on education and a variety of other areas sharply in the wake of the recession when state revenues fell dramatically. While emergency federal aid helped prevent some deeper cuts at first, that money has run out. State revenues are now on the mend, growing 8.9 percent between March 2012 and 2013, but they are still 2.8 percent below pre-recession levels when adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, education costs have increased thanks to inflation and population growth. The Department of Education estimates that there are about 775,000 more K-12 students this year than in the year before the crash.
But even with these challenges, states have made decisions that hurt education. In addressing their budget shortfalls, they have “disproportionately relied on spending cuts,” the report notes, rather than also relying on revenue increases. From 2008 to 2012, states closed 45 percent of their budget gaps with spending cuts but just 16 percent with taxes and fees.
Federal aid, meanwhile, continues to fall. Spending on Title 1, which helps high-poverty schools, is down 12 percent adjusted for inflation and spending on special education is down 11 percent. This is thanks both to the Budget Control Act of 2011 and of sequestration cuts. In fact, while sequestration at first hit Head Start programs and schools that receive Impact Aid hardest, the budget cuts are now starting to be felt by schools across the board. Half have fired personnel, about the same amount have increased class sizes, nearly 60 percent reduced professional development, and 45 put of buying new technology.