Report: COVID-19's Impact on School Funding
- By Dian Schaffhauser
it's much too soon to understand what impact COVID-19 will have on
K–12 education, two researchers have looked at the potential outcomes
based on the impact made by the Great Recession of 2008. According to
Coronavirus Pandemic and K–12 Education Funding,"
published by the Albert
while some states had recovered from precipitous drops in state and
local K–12 funding by 2017, "most had not." The greatest
impacts were felt in higher-poverty districts.
report took into account four funding trends that had an impact on K–12 budgets during the last recession and are still resonating today
drop between 2009 and 2012 in the share of state economies dedicated
to K–12 education;
continual decline in state and local revenue as a percentage of
increased reliance on local property tax to shore up cuts in other
revenue sources, which took a major hit in the housing market crash
of the Great Recession; and
practice of giving both high- and low-poverty districts "roughly
the same funding," leaving the latter "more vulnerable."
federal government responded to the Great Recession by putting
together a two-year "State Fiscal Stabilization Fund," as
part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to the
authors, while those stimulus funds "gave states' economies more
time to recover," the short duration of the funding gave states
too little time to recover, setting them up to fall off a "fiscal
'cliff,'" and forcing them to make "drastic cuts"
immediately; and many states chose to reduce state revenue to all
districts proportionately, creating a bigger gap for higher-poverty
districts, which tend to rely more heavily on state revenue.
the report explained, when the Great Recession struck, state and
local K–12 education funding for school districts, adjusted for local
labor costs, declined about $500 per pupil by 2011. Between 2011 and
2017, funding increased, but only by $250 per pupil, leaving the
average district worse off than it was before the recession.
revenue and spending declines had real effects in schools, including
a drop in teacher staffing ratios," wrote Bruce Baker, a
professor in the Graduate
School of Education at Rutgers University,
and co-author Matthew Di Carlo, a senior fellow at the Albert Shanker
on lessons learned from the Great Recession, Baker and Di Carlo
offered recommendations for addressing "the health of public
education" through the economic turmoil of the coronavirus.
the federal side:
The K–12 system needs "substantial" funding above the $13
billion provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic
Security (CARES) Act, which was approved in March;
avoid the cliff drop-off, that funding should be distributed in
phases — a "substantial allocation" in the first two years,
followed by a second set of allocations for a three- to five-year
"phase down effort";
funding should be distributed in a way that's "equalized"
for local capacity and student needs; and
mandates need to ensure that states can't turn around and reduce the
funding they give to higher-poverty districts out of state coffers.
the state front:
need to increase taxes to make up for the permanent losses that
schools experienced after the Great Recession;
also need to build up their budget reserves through tax increases
and make sure they have flexibility in how to spend those funds when
needed, such as to avoid school layoffs or program cuts;
formulas followed by states should be altered to be
"progressive" — with higher-poverty districts receiving
more funding than lower-poverty districts; and
education funding shouldn't rely too heavily on one single source of
revenue. Rather, to hedge risks, it should be balanced, drawing from
sales, income and property taxes.
severity of the current crisis should, as in the human immune system,
act as a wake-up call to strengthen public school finance not only so
as to recover, but also to make us strong enough to withstand future
crises," Baker and Di Carlo concluded.
report is openly available on
the Albert Shanker website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.