Some states still lag pre-recession funding levels

Some states still lag pre-recession funding levels

(District of Columbia) School funding in more than half of all states is only now creeping past pre-recession levels with support for education in 12 states still lagging far behind prior high marks.

Although teacher strikes in several low-funded states prompted lawmakers to substantially boost allocations, new analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggests in some cases the new money may not be sustainable.

“Since state and local revenues generally have continued to improve since 2016, the number of states whose school funding finally has recovered from the Great Recession has likely continued to grow,” the authors of the report said. “Further, some states have made new investments that research suggests are likely to boost student outcomes, an approach that likely will strengthen those state economies over time relative to their neighbors. States where funding remains depressed may fall behind their peers unless they raise sustainable additional revenue and invest it wisely in their schools.”

The so-called Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009, tore hundreds of billions of dollars from state governments nationwide.

The impact on public schools was enormous—nearly 300,000 teachers and other school personnel lost their jobs. Even the $100 billion in federal aid, provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, couldn’t stop the spread of school closures, swelling class sizes and elimination of sometimes core activities.

The economy in most parts of the country has since more than recovered. Unemployment has rested at record lows for much of the past two years, and this month marks Wall Street’s bull market 10th consecutive year of advance.

That said, some states are still not providing schools what they did before the crash—including some where teacher protests pushed state Legislatures into action, according to the center’s review.

Texas, for instance, remains 20 percent below what it’s per student funding formula provided in 2008. Alabama remains 15 percent below its pre-recession level. Kansas is 12 percent under, Michigan is at 9 percent, and Mississippi lags by 3 percent.

The center highlighted three states where teacher walk-outs led to increases in education funding, but because of how lawmakers constructed the boost, the gain may not be sustainable:

Arizona—Last spring, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget that provided teachers with a 20 percent salary increase over three years. But instead of actually identifying and setting aside the dollars needed to pay for the pay increase, the budget relies on an optimistic prediction of economic growth, continued cuts to other state programs and one-time funding shifts.

North Carolina—Lawmakers here also crafted a budget that gave public schools more money without also raising any new revenues. As a result, the state faces a shortfall beginning next year that will balloon to more than $1.2 billion by 2020—creating a political dilemma because the state constitution requires a balanced spending plan.

Oklahoma—Lawmakers here did a better job of offsetting the cost of giving teachers a pay raise with new revenues by increasing taxes on cigarettes, gasoline and oil extraction. The big question is whether those revenue sources will remain high enough to continue to cover the higher teacher salaries in the future. “Cigarette tax revenue typically fails to keep pace with state revenue needs over time, in part because the higher taxes tend to reduce cigarette consumption,” the center’s research team said. “And gasoline tax revenue also is not a particularly sustainable source, since revenues may be depressed in coming years by consumers continuing to purchase more efficient gasoline-powered cars and more cars fueled by less-polluting forms of energy.”

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