Dive Brief:

  • New research published Tuesday by Education Next suggests declines in learning outcomes coincide with cuts to state education spending. 
  • A $1,000 reduction in per-pupil spending nixes average test scores in math and reading by 3.9% on average, the authors write, and it widens the score gap between Black and White students by about 6%.
  • The same reduction in per-pupil spending also lowers the college enrollment rate by about 2.6%. 

Dive Insight:

Following the Great Recession, which triggered a historic decline in per-pupil spending, states that were most reliant on state revenues to fund K-12 public education also saw the greatest decreases in school spending as well as learning outcomes. The declines ended a 50-year upward trend in national math and reading test scores. 

And despite federal boosts in funding in 2009, the relief money was not enough to fully offset education spending cuts, which triggered what some have called a “lost decade” of achievement.

The researchers in this latest study, led by C. Kirabo Jackson, an associate professor at Northwestern University, suggest states heading into the current recession “may wish to prioritize restoring education budgets as soon as possible after the recovery.” The severity of the consequences of cuts, they said, can be minimized by staving off cuts to instruction as much as possible. 

While reliance on state revenues to fund public education varies greatly by state, that funding source still accounts for nearly half of K-12 school spending throughout the nation, and a majority of states depend on state revenues to fund at least 39% of their education budgets. 

Hawaii, Alaska, New Mexico, Arkansas, Vermont, Minnesota, Idaho and Washington are among the states most vulnerable, the report states. 

As of mid-May, almost half of states had expressed caution in regard to upcoming K-12 budget cuts. Districts in at least 30 states as well as the District of Columbia have made spending or labor adjustments in response to the current economic downturn, according to a tracker put together by the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University.

While federal stimulus money is flowing down to states through the CARES Act, and more is being debated in Congress, many education organizations have said the dollars aren’t enough to sustain states’ education budgets.

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