The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

Why More Education Spending = More Teacher Furloughs

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State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex recently lamented (see this Nerve video) what would seem to be a precipitous drop in education spending over the past two years.

These are Rex’s estimates:

  • Education has been cut by more than three-quarters of a billion dollars
  • The S.C. Department of Education (SCDE) has been cut by 45 percent
  • School district budgets have been cut by about 25 percent

We’ve pointed out before that Superintendent Rex’s numbers don’t always add up, or at least rarely tell the whole story when it comes to education spending.

Granted, SCDE’s budget was cut by just over $700 million between FY08-2009 ($3.815 billion) and FY10-2011 ($3.098 billion).

However, when it comes to education spending we should keep in mind that SCDE’s budget only accounts for about half of total K-12 spending. As we discussed in this recent report on education spending,  total K-12 funding includes local funding, bond revenue, intergovernmental transfers, and other miscellaneous accounting items.

Once we account for these pots of money, total K-12 spending actually increased by 5.40 percent from FY08-2009 to FY10-2011. And by nearly 20 percent since the beginning of the recession in FY07-2008.

That said, let’s look more closely at the numbers Rex uses:

1)      SCDE’s budget has been cut by 45% over the past two years …

According to the General Assembly’s appropriated budgets for FY2009 to FY2011, the Department of Education’s budget decreased by 18.79 percent – compared to an overall decline in General Fund appropriations of 24.98 percent. Regardless of how you look at it, the numbers are nowhere near 45 percent. Moreover, education funding declined at a slower rate than did the budget as a whole.

Again, that’s just the agency budget, not total K-12 spending.

2)      School district budgets have been cut by 25 percent over the past two years …

Total projected per pupil funding for FY10-2011 is $11,372 compared to $11,480 for FY08-2009. The amounts are based on federal, state and local funding, and exclude local bond revenue. But this decline of $108 per pupil represents less than a 1 percent reduction in spending.

Looking exclusively at local funding, the decline is only slightly larger: from $5,516 in FY2009 to $5,254 for FY2011 – a reduction of 5 percent.

Again, though, when local bond revenue is accounted for, local funding actually went up by 6.57 percent over the past two years from $6,571 to $7,003 per student.

That brings up an interesting point. Rex claims the educational system has been cut by 6,000 positions – including about 4,000 classroom teachers – over the past two years. Given that total funding is up, why are teachers losing jobs?

Could it be more money, but less flexibility?

As Rex notes, the Base Student Cost funding level for FY10-2011 has fallen to FY94-1995 levels. Base Student Cost makes up a major component of the unrestricted funds each district receives. Thus, if the Base Student Cost is down, that means school districts have less control over how to use their funding – for instance, whether they have the option to use this money for  teacher and teacher aide salaries.

Unleashing Capitalism indicates how we could lift categorical funding restrictions at the state level on schools and school districts.

As for federal funding, no chance. Thus, increased federal funding is not really about saving teacher’s jobs, but seems to be more about funding pet federal programs.

Consider the recent $26 billion “son of stimulus” (it is working yet?) package passed by the House yesterday. 

“Most of the positions and programs that would be secured by this new taxpayer funded bailout (are not classroom teachers or proven instructional programs, and thus have no impact on student learning,” observed Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform. “This is a jobs bill that has no place in our schools, where how we educate students should always be the most important consideration.”

So, the truth is, K-12 funding, including local bond revenue, is at an all-time high. But, in the end, Rex may have a point: because even though overall K-12 funding is up, school districts may still have to furlough more teachers.

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Written by Simon Wong

August 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Posted in Budget, Public education

Tagged with ,

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