07/12/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/12/2019 14:22
Since the American Federation of Teachers released a groundbreaking state-by-state report card on education funding, 'A Decade of Neglect: Public Education Funding in the Aftermath of the Great Recession,' one year ago, there's been some good news: The badly eroded finances of our nation's public schools are improving.
In 2016, 25 states spent less on public K-12 education on a per-pupil basis, adjusted for inflation, than before the 2008 recession. Today's analysis shows that in 2017, the number of states severely shortchanging kids had dropped to 21.
The culprits remain the same, however, with low-tax Republican states still guilty of the worst underfunding. For example, disinvestment has been a hallmark of Florida state budgets since the recession. And nowhere is spending further behind pre-recession levels than in Florida. Former Gov. Rick Scott liked to talk about how the tax cuts enacted under his watch were more than $10 billion.
A new 2019 edition of the report, 'Funding Our Future: A Progress Report on State K-12 Education Finance,' updates portions of the earlier publication, detailing the harsh impact on students when states choose a path of tax breaks for ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations in the false belief that these tax cuts will pay for themselves. Instead, they starve public schools-where 90 percent of our children are educated-of the resources they desperately need.
A prime example is Wisconsin. Faced with a $3 billion budget shortfall in 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and the newly elected Republican Legislature cut the education budget by $1.85 billion. That same year, Walker signed the first in a series of tax cuts that have ultimately cost the state $4.7 billion. At the same time, lawmakers made steep cuts in state support for schools; they also enacted limits on the amount of money school districts could raise at the local level.
The AFT's new analysis highlights how:
Even as the recession undermined school finances, the report exposes how Republican legislators and governors prolonged the damage by cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of public schools. A majority of Americans instead support repealing tax cuts for the rich and using that money to invest in education, infrastructure and healthcare. And several 2020 presidential candidates are promising significantly more education funding at the federal level.
'The progress here may be incremental, but it matters,' says AFT President Randi Weingarten. 'The investments made in 2017 are important, and the newer signs of progress we are seeing should lead to tangible, measurable impacts: more nurses and counselors in schools, increased special education resources, access to language, art and STEM classes with grade and subject-appropriate material, and higher wages.'
All this happened, Weingarten says, because educators galvanized communities to support public schools. Although we have a long way to go before ensuring that every student receives a high-quality education, the AFT president predicts growing support for investment in strong neighborhood public schools.
The first edition of the report was quickly followed by a resolution, passed by AFT convention delegates last July, calling on states and municipalities to turn data into action. 'The Fight for Investment in Our Future and the Fight Against Austerity' pledges that the AFT 'will … investigate legislative, policy and grass-roots solutions to increase investment in public services, including the identification of new revenue streams,' and 'will work to channel the activism we are witnessing across the country in this moment into a movement for enduring change by electing pro-public education, pro-worker candidates.'
Indeed, our members have become frontline activists, speaking out against the myth-promulgated by ultrawealthy ultraconservatives like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos-that treating teachers as professionals somehow undercuts student success. Together through the union, our members are making it clear that reliance on overworked, under-resourced teachers is bad for kids. Our members are proving that their ability to organize is one of the best hopes for helping children learn and thrive.
[Annette Licitra from AFT staff reports]