Monday, June 25, 2012

As local governments picked up more of school tab, gap between poor and rich districts widened

The Great Recession has changed state formulas for funding education, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's annual Public Education Finances report released last week. According to Ben Wieder, reporting in Stateline, the news service of the Pew Center for the States: For the first time in 16 years, local governments picked up a higher share of the education bill than the states, while the federal government picked up more than 10 percent of the tab. Data was from the 2009-10 school year. State funding did decrease by 6.5 percent from the previous year, according to the bureau, the biggest decrease since reporting began in 1977. That drop was accompanied by an unprecedented increase in federal funding, largely stimulus dollars, that in many cases propped up state spending. Taken together, this means that education funding across the country increased by a half percent, while per-pupil funding increased by 1.1 percent.

Michael Griffith, senior school finance analyst at the Education Commission of the States, says local funding wasn't hurt early by the recession, but it declined as lower property assessments translated into lower local property tax collections. That decline came as state budgets were starting to recover, compensating for some of the losses in local revenue. Griffith expects that the next couple of census reports will show a fuller picture of the impact of the recession, particularly numbers for the past school year, in which federal stimulus dollars expired, Wieder writes. Declining state revenues increased the distance between the haves and the have-nots, Griffith says, because wealthier districts in many parts of the country were better able to make up for fewer state dollars.

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