Most States Now Spend Less Per Student Than In 2008

Since the recession, 34 out of 48 states have provided less funding to schools.

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Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

The lingering impact of the recession has hit education particularly hard in 34 states, according to a report released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Over this school year, the schools in those states will be providing less funding per student than they did in 2008.

“State budget problems are easing, but despite modest increases students are entering schools with less funding than was provided last year,” Michael Leachman, the director of state fiscal research at CBPP, told reporters Thursday. “We aren’t making up for funding cuts at state level and that means layoff, a shorter school year, and larger class sizes.”

Since the recession began in 2008, thirteen states, including South Carolina and New Mexico have cut funding by more than 10%. In Oklahoma and Alabama, education spending has decreased by over 20%. This school year year, New Mexico actually increased funding by $72 per pupil, but due to cuts of over $900 per pupil over the past five years, that increase isn’t enough to offset the decrease in spending. Education spending has continued to fall in many states, even as state revenues have recovered from the depths of the recession, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

State funds account for 44% of education spending, according to the CBPP, and local school districts are facing pressure to make up for lost the funds, which has been difficult as many states are still working to revive income and sales tax revenue to pre-recession levels.

The impact of slashing spending has been felt by the 324,000 employees in local education that have lost their jobs since the recession. It has also impacted school district’s abilities to impose reforms. In the 2011-2012 school year, according to the report, 27 of the 40 states that offered state-funding for pre-kindergarten programs cut per-child funding and 16 states cut enrollment. High-poverty areas have also been hit. Since 2010 there has been a $2 billion decrease in the Title 1 funding that supports schools in areas with a high number of low-income students. Special education programs have also faced an 11% deduction in funding.

As a result of the recession, 54 percent of school districts increased class sizes for the 2011-12 school year and 57 percent anticipated doing the same in the 2012-13 school year, as noted in a survey of administrators mentioned in the report. Research from the Department of Education shows that students in smaller classes, particularly younger students, perform better on standardized tests.

“Cuts to state aid go to the heart of schools ability to deliver a good education to students,” Leachman said.

On the other side of the coin, 29 states have increased funding per-student this year, including North Dakota, a state enjoying an economic boom from oil and gas development, which has seen over an $1,000 increase in funding since the recession.