Other Voices

America is facing a school funding crisis

The Texas Supreme Court urged lawmakers to improve school funding but declined to force changes.
The Texas Supreme Court urged lawmakers to improve school funding but declined to force changes. Star-Telegram

In many communities around the country, families with children in schools are increasingly concerned about the conditions of the schools their kids will return to in the fall.

Even worse, some are worrying whether the schools will open at all.

In Chicago, home to the nation’s third-largest public school system, the district’s school chief announced that schools may not open in the fall due to a budget impasse in the state capitol.

In Kansas, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has called a special session of the state Legislature to determine how to address a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court that calls on the state to fix school funding or risk not having its schools reopen in the fall.

In Pennsylvania, state lawmakers fell far short of Gov. Tom Wolf’s school funding requests and left state education budgets far short of what’s needed.

Due to the inadequacy of state funding, “At least 60 percent of Pennsylvania school districts plan to raise property taxes and nearly a third expect to cut staff,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In Texas, the Legislature convenes in January against the backdrop of a state Supreme Court ruling that declared the state’s school funding system “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.”

The justices wrote, “We hope lawmakers will seize this urgent challenge and upend an ossified regime ill-suited for 21st century Texas.”

But they declined to declare the system unconstitutional and left it up to lawmakers to decide on changes.

State spending, which accounts for about half of most public school districts’ budgets, has been in steep decline across the U.S. for a number of years.

A recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found, “Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools — in some cases, much less — than before the “Great Recession,” which started around 2008.

Consequently, national per-pupil spending on primary and secondary public schools has dropped for three straight years, according to the most recent federal financial data.

In the meantime, student enrollment in public schools continues to grow, with steady increases projected through fall 2023.

A recent review of the research on the effects of school funding on school outcomes, “Does Money Matter in Education?” by Rutgers University Professor Bruce Baker, found that spending more money on education tends to benefit students “and there is scarce evidence that there are more cost-effective alternatives.”

Another review of research, “How Do You Fix Schools? Maybe Just Give Them More Money,” by Jordan Weissmann for online news outlet Slate, found that when schools get more money, they “seem to use their new funding in reasonable ways.” And “they get results.”

Of course, more money is not a panacea, and we need wise oversight of school spending.

But we elect government officials to adequately and equitably fund our children’s education, and it’s high time for them to do their jobs.

Jeff Bryant is the director of the Education Opportunity Network and an associate fellow at Campaign for America’s Future. Twitter: @jeffbcdm

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