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For Many Schools The Recession Never Ended

LA Johnson

The Great Recession technically ended in June of 2009, but many of America's schools are still feeling the pinch.

A new study of state budget documents and Census Bureau data finds that the lion's share of spending on schools in at least 23 states will be lower this school year than it was when the recession began nearly a decade ago.

This analysis looked specifically at what's called general formula funding, which accounts for roughly 70 percent of the money states spend in their K-12 schools.

<a href="http://www.cbpp.org/combined-state-and-local-school-funding-per-student-below-2008-levels-in-most-states-0">CBPP analysis</a> of the Census Bureau's Public Elementary-Secondary Education 2014 Data and National Center for Education Statistics enrollment estimates.
LA Johnson / NPR
CBPP analysis of the Census Bureau's Public Elementary-Secondary Education 2014 Data and National Center for Education Statistics enrollment estimates.

The report, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, suggests that many of the nation's schools are being asked to educate a growing number of students without state lawmakers growing their budgets.

"Public investment in K-12 schools, which are crucial for communities to thrive and for the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity, has declined dramatically in recent years," says Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at CBPP.

The report is a slurry of numbers, so the NPR Ed team pulled out a few of the most compelling figures.

  • As of 2014, the most recent year of available census data, 35 states were still spending less overall per student than they did in 2008. Why does that matter? Because state dollars, on average, account for nearly half of a school's revenues. The other major source of funding comes from local governments. That's our next headline ...
  • 27 states saw their local funding drop from 2008 to 2014.
  • When you combine state and local dollars — which is most of the money schools survive on — overall funding dropped in 36 states.
  • That's right, 36 states were still living in 2008.

  • Arizona's schools saw the biggest percentage cut. From 2008 to 2014, per pupil spending by the state dropped nearly 37 percent. Which helps make sense of this story, reported for NPR's School Money project, about schools turning to a four-day week to save money. Voters did recently approve a funding increase, though it's not clear how big a difference that will make.
  • Some anomalous news (in case this story is bringing you down): Because of a natural resources windfall (oil!), North Dakota's school spending skyrocketed, up 94 percent from 2008 to 2014.
  • Five states — Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Arizona and Wisconsin — didn't just cut into their schools' general funding from 2008 to 2017; they also passed big tax cuts, making it even harder to raise school money. This is a big source of contention in the ongoing suit over funding in Kansas.
  • These cuts have also come in parallel with a rise in enrollment — up 1.1 million students from 2008 to 2016 ...
  • And a loss of some 220,000 education jobs.
  • In short, schools are simply being asked to do more with less. Although, of course, there's nothing simple about it.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Corrected: October 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
    An earlier version of the declining funding chart omitted Colorado and displayed the wrong value for Wisconsin.
    Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.
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