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By Amanda Litvinov with reporting by Brian Washington
School funding is a mix of federal, state, and local funding sources distributed through complex and ever-changing formulas, making it all too easy for elected leaders to use half-truths and lies to slash education budgets and divert taxpayer dollars from public schools. Pro-public education advocates can’t allow that to happen.
Don’t shy away from making the case for better school funding. Just stick to the facts.
Part one of this three part series tackles two common areas of dispute, the amount of funding schools have and the impact of vouchers. Each topic ends with a straightforward bottom line fact that you can use to make the case for better school funding.
FACT: America’s schools are not ‘flush with cash,’ though President Trump (and many others) make such claims.
Most education funding (roughly 90 percent) comes from state and local sources. But K-12 state funding since the Great Recession has failed to keep up with rising enrollments. According to research by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, per pupil funding is lower today than it was in 2008 in 23 states.
Mississippi is one of those states.
“Since fiscal year 2008, state leaders have created a public education funding crisis to the tune of $1.5 billion,” says Mississippi Education Association President Joyce Helmick, who has 37 years of experience working in Mississippi classrooms.
That amount could add more than 5,000 teachers, says Helmick. “Imagine how that can help our students flourish with smaller classrooms, more reading, math, and science courses, and more arts and athletics.”
Federal education spending is stuck at pre-2007 levels. That’s bad news, because federal education programs provide states with funding to protect vulnerable populations of students—those who are from low-income families, those learning English, and those with disabilities to name only a few. Dwindling federal money puts even more pressure on state and local budgets.
The increasing reliance on local revenues exacerbates inequities, since wealthier communities can pass local levies and pay higher property taxes than communities with fewer financial resources.
Bottom line: Per-pupil funding in most states, and federal education spending, have declined to dangerously low levels. State and federal lawmakers should be held accountable.
FACT: Voucher schemes drain resources from neighborhood public schools.
To claim otherwise is outrageous.
Voucher pushers gloss over the fact that making public education money “portable”—that is, removing the average per-pupil funding for each student who receives a voucher—quickly hacks into funds needed to sustain a public school system. The per pupil average may not reflect the resources required to educate that particular student.
Here’s why: Research shows that most vouchers go to middle-class kids who already attend private schools. These students typically require fewer resources to educate than children who are living in poverty, learning English, or have special needs.
And the costs of keeping the lights on, maintaining the building and school campus, transporting kids, and keeping appropriate class sizes are costs that barely go down if a few students leave.
History teacher Jonathan Parker believes voucher diehards know full well that their schemes drain resources from public schools. He teaches at Glendale Union High School in Arizona, where Gov. Doug Ducey has drastically expanded the state’s voucher program.
“Politicians starving public schools create a self-fulfilling prophecy—programs are cut, class sizes swell, quality teachers leave, thereby concocting an artificial demand for privatization,” says Parker.
That’s precisely what President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are doing at the federal level. They will pull taxpayer dollars out of critical programs
like Title I, which adds money to public schools that serve low-income kids, to coerce states to follow their agenda.
“Whatever remedies privatization offers is nothing that a properly funded public school would not also provide to all students,” says Jonathan Parker.
Bottom line: Taxpayer dollars cannot support two education systems. Diverting our money from public schools that serve all children to unaccountable private schools is reckless and wrong.
The next time you hear half-truths or lies about per-pupil funding, or suggestions that vouchers are not a drain on public school resources, put these facts to use.
Now, check out Part 2 of this three-part series.