America’s Schools Face Financial Strain

State Tax Revenue Drops Cause Budget Cuts

Teachers, parents, and students across the country have worked tirelessly to transition to remote learning and finish the school year strong. Now, America’s education system faces an even greater challenge: budget cuts.

State tax revenues have plunged due to coronavirus-related business closures. Some states lost one third of their revenue this month compared to last May. Unlike the Federal Government, states and school districts have to balance their budgets. As a result, school funding is being slashed.

The state of Ohio released a plan to cut K-12 spending by $300 million between early May and June 30 when the fiscal year ends. For Cleveland schools, that translates to about $100 less per student. Students in low-income communities are particularly vulnerable to state-level cuts, because school funding comes partly from the state and partly from local property taxes.

Reopening Schools in the Fall?

If schools do reopen in the fall, they will look significantly different than they did when students left in March. Some districts will likely implement shorter weeks to limit students’ exposure to one another. For example, students might be in school buildings for three days per week and continue learning remotely on other days. Desks will need to be placed farther apart and times when students change classes will need to be staggered to avoid crowded hallways. Additionally, sanitation measures will need to be drastically ramped up.

Implementing these changes will add to schools’ financial strain. Gerald Hill, Superintendent of West Bloomfield School District in suburban Detroit explained , “It’s a major challenge… If we’re cut by 20%, but it’s costing us 20% more to operate, we’re at a 40% cost difference.”

The Public-Private Funding Debate

The CARES Act provided $13.5 billion to help school districts adapt to remote learning. This translated to an average of about $286 per student. For districts to be able to stabilize their budgets and avoid layoffs, they will need an additional $230 billion-$305 billion.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos this week announced that education funding from the CARES Act should be shared between public schools and private schools. This was met with resistance from public school leaders. The association that represents superintendents across the country told districts to disregard the guidance. Indiana and Maine have already said they would not follow the proposed funding split. On the other hand, private schools, which educate about 5.7 million children in the country, say they are struggling due to plummeting donations, and could be forced to close. Some of these schools serve wealthy families but about 30% of private school families make less than $75,000 and have turned to private school because of problems at public schools in their communities.

Though disagreements about school funding are heated, all agree that finding a solution is crucial—both so parents can return to work and so when today’s school children grow up they will not be academically disadvantaged.

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