An overview of current K-12 school funding across the country
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
The latest Education Law Center report, "Making the Grade 2019: How Fair is School Funding in Your State?" gives a comprehensive picture of K-12 funding efforts across states. The data aims to inform policymakers, stakeholders, parents, and districts about the state of public school funding.
As the report shows, a sufficient level of funding is critical to ensure significant benefits for students. It paves the way for equal educational opportunities for all students, as well as higher test scores and high school graduation rates.
States have been ranked from highest to lowest based on the percentage of gross domestic product or state wealth invested into the K-12 school system. Researchers used each state's school finance formula in 2016-17 to combine state and local revenue, and then adjusted to account for regional variations in labor market costs.
Unlike many of its international counterparts, the U.S. K-12 system relies on states to support and maintain systems of free public schools instead of the federal government. States account for 92% of total funding for public education while the federal government contributes the remaining 8% through programs targeted for low-income students and students with disabilities. Each state follows a method or "formula" enacted by the state legislature into law to fund local school districts.
Vermont bagged the top spot for providing the most robust funding to K-12 education with 7.03%, while the national average is 3.79%. New Jersey ranked second at 5.39%; Maine third with 4.78%; Wyoming fourth at 4.74%; and New York ranked fifth with 4.73%. The next five states were Connecticut, Illinois, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Arizona came last with a 2.52% in K-12 funding effort.
States like Wisconsin did their own research, which shows that while K-12 funding has increased significantly, the proportion spent on classroom instruction has slightly dipped. Data from the Badger State’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) show that the K-12 spending budget has increased by $655 million for 2019-2021. However, the average classroom instruction spend of each student is just $7,245. Most of the money is allocated towards instruction costs are the salaries and benefits of teachers, which are essential as well.
Citing teacher salaries as an important agenda, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently proposed a 4% increase in teacher salaries that will account for an additional $117 million. This is by far the most substantial investment in K-12 teacher salaries in the history of the state, a veritable effort to commend teachers who deserve to be paid more for the vital work they do.
Other states that have made notable announcements include New Mexico, which has allocated an additional $486 million for the state's K-12 education system. There is also Iowa, which has announced a total increase of more than $300 million with a proposed $91.7 million in new funding for K-12 education.
There are two concepts we need to be aware of in this context — increases in K-12 funding and Fair School Funding. We have spoken at length about the former.
The latter entails a combination of increased funding to high-poverty districts and a sufficient level of funding for students in all school districts.It seeks to ensure a fair allocation of funds to provide program resources essential for all students, pay, and retain qualified teachers and support staff. Fair School Funding forms the foundation of a high-performing, effective K-12 public school system.
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