PITTSBURGH—Governments in 25 states have shortchanged public K-12 education by $19 billion over the last decade, with low-tax Republican states guilty of the worst underfunding, a groundbreaking report by the American Federation of Teachers, released today, reveals.
“A Decade of Neglect: Public Education Funding in the Aftermath of the Great Recession” details for the first time the devastating impact on schools, classrooms and students when states choose to pursue an austerity agenda in the false belief that tax cuts will pay for themselves.
The comprehensive report offers a deep dive into the long-term austerity agendas and historic disinvestment that sparked the wave of nationwide walkouts this spring.
Among the findings: K-12 education is drastically underfunded in every single state in the United States. When you control for inflation, there are 25 states that spent less on K-12 education in 2016 than they did prior to the recession. But there are signs of the negative impact of austerity even in states with relatively stronger investment in schools.
Chronic underfunding explains why, in 38 states, the average teacher salary is lower in 2018 than it was in 2009, and why the pupil-teacher ratio was worse in 35 states in 2016 than in 2008.
While the recession may have forced budget cuts on our schools, 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.
The report measures each state’s “tax effort”—that is, how much they tax, compared with how rich they are. Of the 25 states with the worst K-12 funding, 18 of them have taxed their residents less since the recession. Five of the 11 states with the lowest K-12 funding—Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas—are also among those with the lowest taxes on the rich.
The problem only gets worse in higher education, where 41 states spent less per student, creating a massive affordability and accessibility gap. This explains why tuition and fees for a two-year degree in 2017 rose at three times the rate of inflation when compared with 2008, and why the cost of a four-year degree rose even higher, putting college woefully out of reach for far too many Americans.
“These problems belong squarely at the feet of elected officials, many of them Republicans, who rather than investing in our future, insisted on ushering in counterproductive austerity,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “When legislators choose to prioritize millionaires over children, our country suffers. And when our education secretary says that money doesn’t matter in schools, we tell teachers, parents and children that they don’t matter either.”
The report was accompanied by a key resolution, passed by delegates today at the AFT’s biennial convention, to turn the data into action. “The Fight for Investment in Our Future and the Fight Against Austerity” states, in part, 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 in November.”
Read the full report here.