What’s something that’s happened nearly every year for the last 100? (No, we’re not talking about the dashed hopes of Chicago Cubs’ fans.) School budgets have grown. Current “Great Recession” or no, reveals this Education Next analysis, over the last century per-pupil expenditures in U.S. schools have declined only twice (the Great Depression and World War II); student-teacher ratios have been cut in half; and teacher salaries have risen by 42 percent. Education’s privileged budget position has multiple causes: protected state constitutional status, a decentralized and diffuse structure, political appeal, and a multi-layered, multi-stream funding structure. Yet school districts continue to cry poverty. That’s partly because their budgetary planning sessions occur months in advance of the federal and state fiscal years (even in advance of budget proposals from presidents and governors.) So school boards and superintendents, whether angling for advantage, truly fearing the worst, and/or covering their behinds, warn of dire cuts, teacher layoffs, and other catastrophes. Yet when school opens in the fall, with the exceedingly rare exceptions noted above, U.S. classrooms have books, desks, teachers, blackboards, whiteboards, and smart boards galore. A note to those who fear for the financial future of education: You’re covered. If only the proper and efficient use of said funds were as guaranteed. Cubs fans, on the other hand, aren’t so lucky.
“The Phony Funding Crisis,” by Arthur Peng and James Guthrie, Education Next, Winter 2010