- A pair of reports released Thursday by the Education Law Center — "Making the Grade 2020" and "$600 Billion Lost: State Disinvestment in Education Following the Great Recession" — add deeper context to the financial turmoil facing the nation's public schools and further highlight the adverse impact states' education funding cuts were already having prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- According to "$600 Billion Lost," public schools lost a total of $598 billion in state and local revenue in the years following the Great Recession, with PK-12 funding in all but four states in 2018 representing a smaller portion of economic activity than before the crisis. The report graded how equitably states funded public schools based on three metrics: funding level, funding distribution and funding effort.
- Meanwhile, "Making the Grade" shows dramatic variations in school funding levels from state to state, with those in the Northeast and Midwest generally trending toward higher funding levels than the South and West. In the top states, funding provided as much as 50% more than the national average of $14,548 per pupil, while the bottom states were as low as 30% less.
The dual reports highlight the perilous financial situation schools across the U.S. faced prior to the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020. According to "Making the Grade," for example, 15 states also have "regressive" systems for K-12 funding that allocate less funding to high-poverty districts than those with lower poverty rates — an issue that can cause even more strife if, for example, the same formulas are used to disburse emergency COVID-19 relief funds to schools.
“As states confront the COVID-19 public health crisis, these reports are a stark reminder of the long-lasting implications of shortsighted economic policy,” said Jennifer Doeren, director of the Partnership for Equity & Education Rights, in a press release. “Going forward, it’s critical that threats to school funding are met with a strong and sustained demand that governors and legislators not reduce but increase their state’s investment in its public schools.”
ELC Executive Director David Sciarra added, “We’ve already seen New York, Texas and other states make devastating budget cuts in response to the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. Our students, especially in schools segregated by poverty and race, simply cannot afford to lose teachers, counselors, nurses and other supports at a time when they need more not less.”
On top of pandemic-related cuts that have been made or are expected in the coming years, school districts have also incurred significant new expenses as they transitioned to online learning models and added safety measures that mitigate transmission of the virus in school buildings. In May, the Association of School Business Officials International and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, estimated the average district would have to spend approximately $194,045 for personal protective equipment, $1.23 million to hire additional staff such as custodians and nurses, and $116,950 for health and disinfecting equipment.
Compounding the issue, The New York Times reports wealthy private schools were able to gain access to emergency Paycheck Protection Program funds made available to help small businesses weather the pandemic.
Sierra Canyon High School, an elite Los Angeles private school serving the children of stars including LeBron James, was cited as an example, having received $3.14 million under the program while the city's traditional public schools received around $716,000 in relief funds. Similarly, the Sidwell Friends School, a District of Columbia private school once attended by Sasha and Malia Obama, reportedly received $5.22 million in PPP funds while D.C. Public Schools got an average of $189,000 in relief funds.