New Maps Detail District-Level Budgets for State and Federal Share

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New Maps Detail District-Level Budgets for State and Federal Share

When it comes to school district budgets, the funding that helps support the nation’s public schools comes from a combination of federal, state and local dollars. Just as no two school districts are the same, neither are their budgets, whether in terms of their funding priorities or—relevant to this blog post—the proportion of the budget covered by federal and state dollars. That is, some districts are more reliant on federal dollars than others, while still more are disproportionately reliant on local dollars. Local dollars are largely driven by property taxes, meaning that affluent communities have more local dollars, making them less reliant on state dollars. Related, because many state funding dollars are targeted to areas of need to help level the playing field, poorer areas receive a larger share of state dollars.

 

Why is this relevant now? As the COVID pandemic sweeps the nations, shuttering school districts across the nation, it is also bringing the broader economy—and the revenue it generates at the state, local and federal level—to a grinding halt. With most state revenues coming from income and sales taxes—both in rapid decline with people being laid off and people spending less—states are bracing for significant reductions in state funding levels. Including those for education.

 

States have tough decisions to make in light of these budget pressures, and there are two specific to education we want to highlight: they have to decide how much to cut from education in general (HINT: education should not be cut disproportionately; that is, when the cuts are in place, education should still represent at least the same share of the overall budget that it did before the cuts) and they have to decide which education programs to cut (that is, the age-old question of whether they should cut equity-centric programs or start with streams that are primarily in place to help level the playing field). How states answer these questions will 100% impact schools, and the intricacies were part of an article in Chalkbeat last week:

  • The major cause of the looming school budget crisis: state tax revenue is cratering.
  • Since high-poverty districts are more reliant on state funds, they’re at risk of deeper budget cuts.
  • Because state dollars are more at risk, the economic downturn could hit low-income students and their schools the hardest.

 

The decisions made by policymakers will have real impacts on communities, a reality that is true for both federal and state policy. Specific to funding, it is both the overall amount of what is cut as well as the specifics of which program are cut that will ultimately reveal the full impact to individual communities.

 

In 2013, as the federal government acted to implement the blunt budget cuts of sequestration, AASA shared a map detailing the hugely inequitable impact of a cut that prioritized so-called ‘fairness’ by virtue of being ‘equal’ by being one flat rate for all programs. The reality of the ‘across the board’ cuts was that some states and districts felt the cuts much more acutely than others. Sure, the idea of ‘everyone take a 5% cut’ seems fair, but the reality is far different: a 5% cut to federal funding when federal dollars are just 10% of your budget is very different than a 5% cut to federal funding when federal dollars are 50% of your budget. As I wrote in 2013: “…it must be noted that the so‐called ‘across‐the‐board’ nature of sequestration is anything but in schools. Each district has its own operating budget which includes a share of federal education dollars. Through a combination of factors including poverty, local/state budget capacity, and state/local investment in education, the federal dollars represent a varying ‘share’ of the overall budget1 such that some districts will feel to allegedly ‘flat’ cut of 5.2 percent much more aggressively than other districts. That is, relatively robust districts—where federal dollars represent less than 8 percent of the overall budget—will be applying the sequester cuts to a smaller portion of the overall budget than their higher‐ poverty districts, where federal dollars can represent upwards of 50, 60 or 70 percent of the operating budget. Five percent of 8 percent, while damaging, is much less harmful than 5 percent of 60 percent. Low‐ wealth (higher‐poverty) districts generally have a larger share of their funding coming from the federal level. The sequester cuts will disproportionately hurt the most vulnerable students in the most vulnerable districts, anything but ‘across‐the‐board.” Check out the map in that report; it shows, at the district level, the share of each district’s budget that came from federal dollars; it is a clear illustration of how cuts will disproportionately impact different communities.

 

Which brings us to today’s post: We’ve updated the maps to reflect each school district’s budget in terms of its reliance on state dollars, as well as on federal dollars. Why? Well, we’ve already seen a significant investment in schools via the CARES Act and can reasonably expect additional investment via subsequent emergency funding packages. While the statutes are very clear that large portions of the education funds are intended for the local level—and we know that states will pass those dollars through to the local level—we are very concerned that ultimately, states will make cuts to state education funding, rendering the federal emergency dollars as back-stops to state cuts, leaving school districts to feel no discernable difference from the federal dollars. This shell game is not a case of crying wolf; it was a well-documented reality under ARRA that state cuts to budgets in response to the economic downturn resulted in local school districts feeling little to no relief from the federal dollars intended to provide help.

 

Any federal emergency funding for school districts must both include and enforce policy related to state maintenance of effort and state ‘supplement, not supplant’. This is NOT to say that states should be prohibited from making budget cuts. To the contrary: unlike the federal government, state and local budgets are often required to ‘balance’, meaning that in light of precipitously declining revenues, they need to reduce expenditures (ie, make cuts). What MUST happen, though, is that states must ensure that they do not cut education disproportionately. That is, after the cuts are in place, education funding must represent at least the same overall share of the state budget that it did before the cuts were in place. The idea that states should ‘get a pass’ on investing in education because of significant funding pressures is naïve, and a slap in the face to local schools: the same fiscal pressures slowing state economies will also slow local economies. Giving states cart blanche when it comes to education cuts leaves local school districts holding the purse: states use the federal dollars to keep their budgets closer to ‘whole’ while locals are left grappling with both state and local cuts.  In addition to including and enforcing maintenance of effort and supplement/supplant provisions, there are other considerations the federal government could include (Scroll to the last section).

 

These maps highlight—and allow us to predict with some accuracy—which districts will be most impacted by state cuts, especially if Congress fails to protect its COVID emergency response dollars for education by holding states accountable for not disproportionately cutting education within their budgets. Landing Page: School District Revenue & Expenditure Patterns, FY 2017

 

About the map maker: Warren Glimpse/ProximityOne (wglimpse@proximityone.com) has developed several national scope map views showing patterns of school district FY 2017 (latest available on a national scale) revenues by source (federal, state, local). These maps show the percent of state and federal revenue for FY 2017 by school district.  The Web page http://proximityone.com/sdfa17.htm features the map views with more detail.  That page also includes an interactive table where sources and uses of funds may be viewed/analyzed by individual district, groups of districts or all districts.  Data are based on an annual survey of public elementary and secondary education systems, mostly school districts, conducted by the Census Bureau under sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Education. The survey covers all U.S. school districts. These data are reported by school districts. They are not estimates subject to estimation error. However, financial data reporting and categorization differs from state to state. As a result, some data cells show as zero while in fact the data for that cell is included in another category, such as "Other." Data shown in these table were developed by merging the Census-sourced "F-33" data with the Census-sourced 2017-18 school year school district geographic reference/boundary file using the Federal school district code. There is not a 1-to-1 match between these codes. Where total revenue shows as 0 (228 districts) the F-33 financial data are not available.