K-12 Spending Sees Gains, But Still Lags in Many States, Teachers Union Says

School funding took a big hit in the early years of the Great Recession.

School funding took a big hit in the early years of the Great Recession. AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh


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An analysis of 2017 data finds education funding remains below pre-recession levels in over a third of states.

Twenty-one states were spending less on K-12 education in 2017 than they were prior to the Great Recession, according to a new report from one of the nation’s largest teachers unions.

It would cost those states $14.4 billion to close the gap, the American Federation of Teachers says. The union says the latest figures show gains in funding over 2016, when spending was down compared to pre-recession levels in 25 states.

School funding increases states adopted in 2018 and this year are not reflected in the union’s report. Some states have taken steps to bolster school spending during that time.

AFT notes that, last year, teachers staged strikes and walkouts in Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia, pushing back against lagging school dollars in those states. In each of those states, except Kentucky, lawmakers increased state funding for schools, the report says. 

Kentucky, however, was one of the four states that between 2016 and 2017 moved off of the list of places that was spending less on K-12 schools than prior to the recession, which officially began in late 2007 and went on to take a heavy toll on state and local government budgets.

The other three states that saw similar improvements between 2016 and 2017 were: South Dakota, Tennessee and Oregon, according to the report.

“The progress here may be incremental, but we’ve reached an inflection point,” American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten, said in a statement.

The union used Census data for its analysis and said it didn’t have complete information for more recent years. Spending figures, AFT says, have been adjusted for inflation.

AFT says New York ranked No. 1 in terms of per pupil spending in 2017 and Utah ranked last. 

A fully copy of the report can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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