- More than half of states will have budget surpluses this year, thanks to an improving economy and federal tax cuts, and at least 17 are considering teacher pay raises — but while public school advocates are hoping for funding to return to pre-recession levels, many fiscal conservatives want to build up rainy day funds instead, Education Week reports.
- According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, states are already spending 4.3% more on education this year than in 2018, but where that money is spent often depends on the volatility of the state’s economy: those with volatile budgets tend to spend more on paying down pension funds or on one-time expenditures like school construction, whereas states with more stable economies are looking at sustainable expenses like pay raises and kindergarten expansion.
- As state leaders make decisions, they must predict future revenues accurately or schools will be forced to lay off staff in the middle of the year as they have had to do in the past. States are also looking at many competing budget priorities, as areas such as higher education and foster care have also faced cuts in recent years.
Most states are reaping the benefits of an improving economy, but now face a "more money, more problems" dilemma. Public education already accounts for a large percentage of state budgets, but ed leaders and advocates are pushing for more money as state coffers fill.
Teacher strikes in many states over the past year are also increasing the pressure, even in states where strikes haven't occurred. But many also face issues with pension payouts, which are siphoning funds that could go to education. Additionally, concerns over equity issues are forcing many states to take a harder look at school funding formulas in the midst of these changes.
School districts have been suffering under constrained budgets for more than a decade now. While the need to cut funds has forced some to become leaner and more efficient, they have also had to let some programs and initiatives fall by the wayside. Support staff in many schools have been cut but are now needed more than ever. School buildings are also deteriorating after years of reduced capital spending. And teacher pay is becoming more of an issue in light of declining interest in the profession and shortages of teachers in some fields.
However, many state-funded departments have also had to face severe budget cuts in the past, and state leaders are having to consider needs in those areas as well. Even at the district level, increased funding doesn't necessarily mean teachers will get more money in their pockets. Superintendents are facing their own spend-or-save dilemmas as more money comes in, and they, too, face conflicting priorities.
In light of the effects of the last recession, padding fund balances makes sense, but the needs of students and staff cannot be ignored either. While budget cuts require resourcefulness on the part of state lawmakers and school leaders, budget surpluses require wisdom in handling those funds — and that can prove a greater challenge.