The Pandemic Should Be A Catalyst To Triple Public School Funding

By Richard Barth
KIPP Memphis Collegiate Class of 2020 graduate Ronnie Parrott.

KIPP Memphis Collegiate Class of 2020 graduate Ronnie Parrott.

Over the past three months, we have watched educators and families work together in entirely new ways to keep “school” going through the greatest challenge schools have faced in the last 100 years. There is a pivotal role for the federal government to play at this unprecedented moment. Congress should triple Title I funding, the largest federal aid program for public schools, so that public schools serving low-income children are not asked to meet the biggest challenge in the history of American education with far less funding than they have today.

There will be steep declines in state tax revenue available to schools this fall, and likely even deeper cuts heading into the fall of 2021. In some states, it is possible to imagine cuts to state funding great as 20%. A recent study projects “these shortfalls will total $615 billion over the next three state fiscal years.” States like Ohio have already announced large education cuts, $300 million in K-12 funding and $100 million in college and university funding for the current year. Georgia’s budget officials have warned that cuts are coming in July which will force districts to lay off teachers and staff.

“The impacts are all but guaranteed to hurt those with the least, the most.”

Since our country’s highest need school districts rely far more heavily on state funding than affluent districts, the impacts are all but guaranteed to hurt those with the least, the most. We have recent history to look to; in the 2009 recession affluent school districts in America saw their funding drop by $500 per child. High-poverty school districts in the same state lost over $1500 per student in funding.  And the impact lasted far beyond one year: the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities most recent data shows education funding remained below pre-recession levels in almost half the states, and in some cases 30% lower.

“Congress should triple Title I funding for the next three years.”

Congress should triple Title I funding for the next three years in an effort to fill in the gaps in funding that schools are currently experiencing. Title I guides funding to schools based on the financial needs of its students. Schools with the largest concentrations of students from low-income families receive Title I funds to assist meeting the students’ educational goals.  Here is a simple example of how it works: at one of our schools in California, out of a total budget of $7.2 million, $6.4 million of that budget is from state funding and $245,000 comes from Title I.  In a world where a school budget experiences at 10% decline in state funding – in this case $640,000 – a tripling  of Title I would fill that gap and provide the funding needed to address additional challenges that students from low-income families will be facing given the Covid-19 crisis.  States could be required to return to pre-Covid 19 funding levels in 3 years.

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