Education Vital Signs: School Spending

The massive topic of school spending covers everything from federal fiscal policy, to state equalization laws, to local questions such as grant writing, teacher pay, bond referenda, budgeting, and oversight and accountability systems. The economic recession that began in late 2008 and continued through part of 2010 has had a devastating impact on state finances, and that impact has been keenly felt at the district level. Increasingly, school districts are having to learn how to do more with less.  The development of more energy efficient “green buildings” and the creation of purchasing cooperatives, in which districts band together to buy supplies in bulk, are just two of the ways schools are trying to cut costs. By far the biggest category of costs for such labor-intensive enterprises as school districts is personnel. But with an aging workforce of baby boomers nearing retirement, pension costs are skyrocketing, and districts are having to restructure defined benefit retirement program that are unsustainable in the long term.

Textbook recycling
Nearly 40 percent of K-12 schools, colleges, and universities are storing or discarding old textbooks, rather than recycling them, with more K-12 schools than colleges failing to recycle textbooks. A report from the National Wildlife Federation, the McGraw Hill Companies, and New Page Corporation, “A Research Study on Textbook Recycling in America,” found that 57 percent of K-12 schools donate or participate in “give away” programs to dispose of textbooks, or store them because they are unsure about how to dispose of them. Even a 5 percent increase in the number of schools recycling textbooks would significantly decrease the number of textbooks in landfills, according to the report.
November 2012

Funding and the opportunity gap
"Is School Funding Fair?," A National Report Card from the Education Law Center and Rutgers Graduate School of Education finds that, while the national average for school funding is $10,774 per pupil (up $642 from 2010), the disparity in funding between states is more of a chasm -- students in Tennessee receive less than 40 percent of the funding a student in Wyoming receives. Most of the best-funded states are in the Northeast (with the exception of Wyoming and Alaska), while the lowest-funded states are in the South and the West.
July 2012

Stretching school dollars
A policy brief from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, "How School Districts Can Stretch the School Dollar," says that U.S. school districts continue to struggle financially due to lower property tax receipts and built-in contractual cost escalators for teachers’ salaries, pension systems, health insurance, and rising food and fuel costs. The brief recommends that districts create a new, leaner workforce that can implement technology to save money -- and compensate workers for productivity.
April 2012

Strained Schools Face Bleak Future

School districts can expect their budgets to tighten even more in the coming school year, according to “Strained Schools Face Bleak Future,” a new report on the fiscal condition of public school districts from the Center on Education Policy. The report says 70 percent of all districts experienced funding cuts in the 2010-11 school year, and about 84 percent of districts expect to see further cuts in the 2011-12 school year. Sixty-one percent of these districts reported that they anticipate cutting staff. Sixty-six percent of districts with budget shortfalls in 2010-11 postponed or stopped reform initiatives.

June 2011

What Savings Are Produced by Moving to a Four-Day School Week?

Moving your district to a four-day school week may not yield the cost savings your district may expect. What Savings Are Produced by Moving to a Four-Day School Week?, a report by the Education Commission of the States, finds that the maximum savings that moving to a four-day school week could yield is 5.43 percent. The average savings realized by the 120 districts nationwide that have moved to a four-day school week range from 0.4 to 2.5 percent of their budgets—small savings, but savings nonetheless.

May 2011


Adding Up the Spending
Adding Up the Spending, a new brief about fiscal disparities among New York City (NYC) charter schools, says that while some NYC charters receive almost no private donations, other, well-endowed charters receive plenty of additional private funding—sometimes $10,000 per pupil more than traditional public schools have to spend. The brief also says that the city’s Board of Education gives almost half of the NYC charters a public facility to use, putting those charters ahead of the financial game even without donations. The brief points out, however, that these well-funded charter schools do not noticeably outperform traditional public schools; little or no relationship was found between spending and test scores.
January 2011


Conflicting Missions and Unclear Results
Two years after public education received $100 billion in stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), its effect on student achievement is still undetermined. Conflicting Missions and Unclear Results finds that most districts used ARRA funds to maintain spending levels in the face of budget cuts, and that mixed messages and delays in receiving guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education created confusion about how the funds should be used. When funds were used for more strategic ends, local leadership was responsible, not federal policy decisions.
December 2010

Children’s Budget 2010
Due to ARRA funding, an additional $50 billion will be spent on more than 180 different children’s programs this year -- a 20 percent increase over spending in 2009. But without ARRA funding, spending on kids in 2010 would account for less than 8 percent of the federal budget, less than it was in 2005. Read the First Focus report, Children’s Budget 2010, for more details.
July 2010

Kids’ Share 2010
A new report from the Brookings Institute, Kids’ Share 2010: Report on Federal Expenditures on Children Through 2009, shows that, while the stimulus spurred spending on children in 2009, kids’ actual share of the federal budget fell—from 9.8 percent in 2008 to 9.5 percent, with spending on many children’s programs projected to peak in 2010. Kids’ share of the federal tax expenditure budget declined, as well, from nine to eight percent between 2008 and 2009.
July 2010

An Early Look at the Economic Stimulus Package and the Public Schools
A new survey of state education agencies and governor’s offices in 44 participating states and the District of Columbia takes a look at the implementation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provisions for elementary and secondary education. While most states will support the new federal priorities for education outlined in the economic stimulus package, many are worried about how their state can best meet some of the expectations for improving schools. An Early Look at the Economic Stimulus Package and the Public Schools, from the Center on Education Policy, says that the ARRA funding that helped prevent education budget cuts may only be a short-term fix for cash-strapped states. Fourteen of the 24 states responding to state budget survey questions expect their education funding to decrease in 2010. Forty-one of the responding states say they plan to apply for Race to the Top funds. More than a third of the states participating in the survey will have plans in place by 2010 to turn around low-performing schools. Most participating states report they will be using professional development to improve teaching, implement new standards, and turn around low-performing schools. “The popularity of this strategy ... suggests that states may be choosing more traditional strategies over strategies that could turn out to be more expensive, controversial, or sweeping,” the report says.
December 2009

2010 Education Appropriations Guide
Congress has not used the supplemental American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding as a new and higher baseline for 2010 educational funding. An issue brief from the New America Foundation, the 2010 Education Appropriations Guide, provides breakdowns and analysis of the $63.7 billion education budget for 2010. The brief reports that funding for nearly all programs is virtually the same as it was in 2009, and that all major programs will be funded at fiscal year 2009 levels. Funding for two programs has been eliminated, and there is a new $50 million high school graduation initiative.
December 2009

But the Pension Fund Was Just Sitting There
Teacher pension funds are faced with funding issues and are not modern enough to fit the 21st century workforce, according to But the Pension Fund Was Just Sitting There, a report by the American Enterprise Institute. The report states that public pension reform is ruled by politics, not financial or economic incentives, and uses case studies in New Jersey, Oregon, and San Diego to illustrate the problems districts face.
July 2009

Planning the Possible: How Schools Can Use Stimulus Dollars for Lasting Impact
For help planning how your school district can best use federal stimulus funds, check out ASCD’s new report, Planning the Possible. The digital version is highly interactive, with a blog, an extensive list of pertinent links and useful e-mail addresses, and a social networking section that includes customizable widgets and links to help you share the report with your favorite social network.
May 2009

Federal Education Budget Project
The New America Foundation has launched an online database that provides information on state and school district funding -- including the newest economic stimulus data, demographic information, and achievement statistics on school districts across the country.

Report of Findings: Impact of the Economic Downturn on Schools
School districts in every region of the country are feeling the impact of the economic downturn, according to the American Association of School Administrators’ report, Study of the Impact of the Economic Downturn on Schools. The study, based on a survey of school superintendents conducted in October 2008, finds that belt-tightening measures already are underway in districts nationwide in response to shrinking budgets.
November 2008

E-Rate Utilization Analysis
The E-rate program provides $2.25 billion annually to help schools and libraries obtain technology funding, but it appears that a significant portion of those funds is not being spent. This is one of the findings in a report just released by Funds For Learning, an E-rate funding compliance services firm, that explores the issue of E-rate utilization. The analysis reveals that E-rate stakeholders leave more than 25 percent of committed funds unutilized each year, which amounts to millions of dollars in unused annual funding.
October 2008

Funding Student Learning: How to Align Education Resources with Student Learning Goals
A five-year, in-depth examination of K-12 school finance in the United States found that school improvement efforts often fail because the education system finance system is broken. The National Working Group on Funding Student Learning’s report, Funding Student Learning: How to Align Education Resources with Student Learning Goals, concludes that education finance needs to be redesigned to support student performance.
October 2008

More Equity and Less Red Tape: Rethinking the Comparability and Compliance Provisions in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Title I provisions aim to ensure that funds are spent on poor children and that districts fairly serve poor schools. Yet these provisions do little to make funding more fair, and they impose significant red tape on districts and schools, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress, More Equity and Less Red Tape: Rethinking the Comparability and Compliance Provisions in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
October 2008

Strategic Designs: Lessons from Leading Edge Small Urban High Schools
A report by Education Resource Strategies, Strategic Designs, illustrates how nine high-performing, small urban high schools are thinking about and organizing their resources to best meet their students' most pressing needs. Through interviews and reviews of class schedules, staffing strategies, and budgets, the report provides a detailed look at how leaders in these carefully think about how they use every staff member, each moment of the school day, and every dollar to support student learning.
June 2008

What Is the Sum of the Parts? How Federal, State, and District Funding Streams Confound Efforts to Address Different Student Types
A report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, followed a five-year study of how K-12 schools are financed. Instead of a coordinated system to finance public schools, researchers found a confusing maze of funding policies and formulas often work to cross purposes.
June 2008

Kids' Share 2008: How Children Fare in the Federal Budget
Children are a diminishing priority in the federal budget, according to a study from the Urban Institute and New America Foundation. If current spending and revenue policies continue, the children’s share of domestic federal spending—which excludes defense, non-defense homeland security, and international affairs—will be 13.8 percent in 2018, down from 16.2 percent in 2007 and 20.2 percent in 1960.
June 2008

The Progressive Generation: How Young Adults Think About the Economy
Young adults ages 18 to 29 are more supportive than other age groups when asked about increasing government spending, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. The best news for school leaders: 95 percent of young adults surveyed in 2006 said more money should be spent on education. Analysts said the views of young adults have a profound effect on policy going forward.
May 2008

Additional Learning Opportunities in Rural Areas: Needs, Successes, and Challenges
Even though rural schools face challenges in providing additional learning time for students, intersessions, longer school days and years, and after-school programs are critical to enhancing achievement and curbing the dropout rate, according to a report from the Center for American Progress. Unfortunately, the report says, this is not feasible without more state and federal funding.
April 2008

Governors and Public Education: A Trend Analysis of Gubernatorial Messages 2004-2008
For the past five years, the nation’s governors have stressed the link between education funding and economic growth, according to Governors and Public Education: A Trend Analysis of Gubernatorial Messages 2004-2008, a study by the Washington, D.C.-based Communities for Quality Education. However, the number of governors who mention school choice and merit-pay initiatives appears to be on the decline.
April 2008

A Guide to Public Engagement and School Finance Litigation
The Washington, D.C.-based Public Education Network has released A Guide to Public Engagement and School Finance Litigation to help organizations use public engagement strategies to ensure that the outcome of lawsuits reflect the interests of various groups in your school district. According to the guide, 21 states are in litigation regarding their school finance systems, which can present a unique opportunity for communities to restructure the ways in which public education is paid for, expanded, and delivered.
January 2008

CPRE’s School Finance Research: Fifteen Years of Findings
The Wisconsin Center for Education Research has developed a school-based financial information database to better report education expenditures by educational strategy and program at the site level. The database provides more insight into effective and ineffective uses of education funds.
December 2007

Investing in Children
Federal spending on programs for children is expected to drop sharply over the next 10 years, according to Investing in Children, a study by the Urban Institute for the Partnership for America’s Economic Success. Programs that focus on children’s future productivity or income – such as improving education, promoting good health, and supporting parents’ ability to work – will drop from the current 1.6 percent of the gross domestic product to 1.3 percent in 2017.
November 2007

Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2008
A state-by-state analysis of legislative support for pre-kindergarten programs shows increasing numbers of states are spending more money on programs for preschool-age children. Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2008, by Pre-K Now, found that $528 million in additional money has been budgeted for fiscal year 2008 by state lawmakers to provide 88,000 more children with preschool programs. Thirty-four states increased funding for pre-k programs, a more than 50 percent increase from fiscal year 2005.
September 2007

K-12 Spending More Reliant on Federal Government Since No Child Left Behind Act
Public schools are more dependent on federal tax money since the advent of NCLB in 2002, according to a study by the Tax Foundation. Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the study showed that federal funding to schools has gone up 60 percent since 1999. In the 1999-2000 school year, public school districts received an average of $578 per pupil. In 2004-05, it was an average of $919 per pupil.
July 2007

Balancing Acts: How High School Counselors View Risks and Opportunities of Student Loans
Most guidance counselors (86 percent) are concerned about the amount of debt students take on to pay for college, according to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
June 2007