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School Funding Reality: Levels Remain Recession-Era Despite Recovery

It’s been ten years since the height–or, better, the depths–of the Great Recession.

In an attempt to survive the downward economic spiral of the late 2000s, governments and businesses introduced sweeping budget cuts and austerity measures.

Public school districts were not immune to these cutbacks. Many state and local governments chose to reduce funding to school districts in their search for cost savings.

But ten years later, in the midst of a historic economic recovery, a majority of school leaders say most of the funding lost during the Great Recession has not been restored.

A report released this month by AASA summarizes data from a national survey of superintendents about the fiscal health of theirs district.

The bottom line: Despite economic growth, school districts are still not fully funded.

Here’s three key takeaways from the survey results:

1. A majority of superintendents say their schools are inadequately funded

Nearly 75 percent of survey participants called their school district “inadequately funded,” as opposed to nearly a quarter of respondents who said their schools are “adequately funded.” Looking to the future, almost 40 percent of school leaders anticipated more cuts to state and local funding, while just under 22 percent of respondents said they anticipate increased funding and another 22 percent foresee level funding.

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While leaders worry about cuts, it’s the lingering budget shortfalls that are most problematic, according to the report:

“The results from this survey detail, once again, that it is not the new cuts that are most problematic. Rather, it is the continued inability of states and local school districts to make their budgets ‘whole,’ to return them to pre-recession levels. Now, ten years removed from the start of the recession, our nation’s K-9 graders have spent the entirety of their K-12 experience, to date, in a post-recession funding climate.”

2. Leaders would focus increased funding on staffing and instruction

When asked where they would focus increased funding, if they were to receive it, a majority of superintendents identified staffing and instruction initiatives.

According to AASA, the top-five funding priorities among respondents were:

  • Hiring staff/reducing class size
  • Increasing faculty salaries
  • Improving professional development
  • Investments in education technology
  • Building construction or repairs

3. Districts continue to pay for IDEA mandates

While local school districts are required to fulfill the mandate of providing free quality education to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), most do not receive the full federal funding promised by Congress to aid in that effort. This lack of funding forces some schools to dip into their own pockets to fulfill these requirements.

Nearly half of survey respondents said that 10 percent to 20 percent of their budgets were used to fund IDEA shortfalls. Almost 9 percent of respondents said they put 30 percent to 40 percent of their budget resources towards IDEA.

Does your school or district struggle with budget issues? What are your priorities when it comes to using state and federal funds? Tell us in the comments.