Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau released the Public Education Fitness Report. For only the second time since 1977, in 2008-09 total state funding to K-12 education declined from the previous year. In 2009, the state source of revenue for K-12 education dropped 6.5 percent to $18 billion. K-12 education continues to search for support for its three primary sources of income: local, state and federal.
The New America Foundations Federal Budget Project found that states funded 47 percent of K-12 spending with the local governments contributing 44 percent and federal dollars contributing the remaining 9 percent. Historically, a majority of financial support for local schools have come from their communities. Local revenue for education is largely gathered through property taxes. This taxation model has a tendency to favor large urban communities with high property values and numerous industries within their jurisdictions. Smaller rural communities suffer due to the lack of this valuable tax base.
The degree that states financially support local schools can vary widely based on states educational funding formulas. States with the largest amount of local funding support include: South Dakota (33 percent state/50.6 percent local), Nevada (30.6 percent state, 59.6 percent local) and Illinois (27.6 percent state, 60.5 percent local). States with the largest portion of state funds supporting local schools include: New Mexico (70 percent state, 15.1 percent local), Hawaii (82 percent state, 13.4 percent local) and Vermont (85.7 percent state, 7.8 percent local).
There still exists both interstate and intrastate funding disparities within K-12 education. Intrastate disparities are caused by both the fiscal condition of each state's economy and the willingness of the state to support its educational organizations. This is illustrated by New Jersey spending $16,271 per student while Utah spends only $6,356. Financial equity issues also exist between school districts within a state. This intrastate issue can be found in Illinois where the New Trier Township District received $19,927 per student while the Farmington Center Community Unit School District received only $6,548 per student. Nationally, the average school district spends $10,591 on each individual student annually.
Federal K-12 contributions come from a variety of government agencies. No Child Left Behind Title I grants provided $14.5 billion nationally to support schools in 2011. IDEA Special Education State Grants provided an additional $11.5 billion in fiscal 2011. The Department of Agriculture supported nutritional programs for K-12 students using $18.6 billion in funds while the Department of Health and Human Services provided $7.6 million to support Head Start programs. In 2011, the Department of Labor provided $1 billion to support Youth Employment and Training Activities and YouthBuild, an alternative education program that provides youth between 16 to 24 training and practical experience for "in-demand" careers in industry. Federal fund allocation varies between states, with South Dakota having 16.4 percent of its budget consisting of federal funds while it only makes up 4.1 percent of New Jersey's budget.
Funding for K-12 education will continue to be front and center in this election. The general consensus is that more funding is needed to support our schools. The challenge lies in identifying the source and distribution of this funding.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.