Teacher Protests Spurred Increased State Spending

Carolina, March 08, 2019: But the increases were not enough to make up for the steep cuts that those states made since the Great Recession in 2008, and in many cases, the funding mechanisms for the new money aren’t sustainable in the long-term.

Those are the top-line findings in an analysis from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which examined whether the dozen states that made the biggest cuts – of 8 percent or more – to their education spending between 2008 and 2017 had reinvested after a year of widespread teacher discontent over issues of low pay, crowded classrooms and lack of support staff like nurses, librarians and counselors.

“Teacher protests last year helped in sizeable school funding increases in some of the states that have cut funding the most after the last recession hit, but they still have along way to go to return to pre-recession level,” Michael Leachman, senior director of state fiscal research at CBPP and author of the report, said on a call with reporters Tuesday according to reports published in usnews.com

The analysis shows that lawmakers in four of the five states that experienced teacher protests boosted K-12 spending last year. Oklahoma had the biggest injection of funding with lawmakers increasing funding per student by 19 percent. Though increases were still significant in Arizona, North Carolina and West Virginia, where the funding hikes ranged from 3 percent to 9 percent per student.

State education funding in Kentucky remained flat, though teacher backlash there was generated by state legislation that would have cut teacher pensions; not by a lack of investment in the state’s K-12 system.

Four of the other seven states that cut school formula funding especially deeply over the last decade – AlabamaIdahoKansas and Utah – marginally increased their spending last year, with increases ranging from 1 percent to 3 percent. Michigan‘s K-12 spending remained relatively flat, while two states, Mississippi and Texas, cut funding even more.

Despite the increases in funding in some states, the gains weren’t enough to erase the cuts lawmakers had made over the last decade. And funding wasn’t restored to pre-recession levels.

Even in Oklahoma, which got a 19 percent funding boost, per-student formula funding remains 15 percent below 2008 levels. In Arizona, North Carolina, and West Virginia, funding levels are still 6, 7 and 8 percent below where they were in 2008, respectively.

“Those boosts were not enough to make up for previous cuts,” Leachman said. “If we neglect our schools we diminish our futures.”

The report also includes a critique of the revenue sources states used to pay for funding increases made last year, arguing that in three of the four states that increased funding as a result of teacher protests, the revenue streams aren’t reliable sources of funding for the future.

In Arizona, for example, the budget doesn’t include the new revenue required to finance a 20 percent salary increase over three years. Instead, it relies on “optimistic predictions of economic growth,” continued cuts in Medicaid and a handful of one-time funding shifts. And in Oklahoma, the spending increases are derived from increased taxes on cigarettes, gasoline taxes and oil extraction.

“Our lawmakers still have important work to do, and our teachers, parents, school officials and community leaders will need to remain engaged to make sure they do it,” David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said Tuesday on a call with reporters.

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