Public school funding in Virginia has been falling fast. Chesterfield County has felt it in its battle to squeeze all the Franklins out of...

Public school funding in Virginia has been falling fast. Chesterfield County has felt it in its battle to squeeze all the Franklins out of every shrinking budget. Management has been a concern for a good many citizens, but when you look at state funding you wonder where the shrinking cash is going.

Per the report “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,” public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, shortchanging the nation’s 49 million public school students, especially those living in poverty, out of the educational opportunities they need to succeed. Despite an economic rebound, states have been slow to restore the cuts to K-12 education triggered by the 2007 downturn, and school funding remains below pre-recession levels in many states.

There are wide disparities in the amount spent on public education across the country, from a high of $18,507 per pupil in New York, to a low of $6,369 in Idaho. In addition, most states do not systemically provide additional funding to low-income districts, depriving at-risk students of the resources and supports essential for academic success.

Virginia carries the banner of being close to the bottom in every category. “There is a direct link between school funding and essential resources,” said Rutgers Professor and Report co-author, Bruce Baker, a noted school finance expert. “These latest findings show a lack of access to preschool, higher pupil-to-teacher ratios and uncompetitive wages for teachers in those states with unfair and inadequate school funding.”

The Report Card is the most sophisticated comparative analysis of public school finance in the United States, examining the level and distribution of school funding within each state in relation to student need. Most states’ average teacher salaries fall far below their non-teacher counterparts. Nationally, teachers beginning their careers at age 25 earn about 80 percent of what non-teachers earn. Only two states have average teacher wages that are comparable to or greater than other similar workers – Wyoming and Iowa. Wages are least competitive in Missouri, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, where teachers make around 30 percent less.

Many of the low-performing states on the funding fairness indicators are also ranked at the bottom of the resource allocation indicators. For example, Virginia does poorly on all four fairness measures and ranks in the bottom ten of all three resource indicators. This pattern is consistent across many states, meaning that students in states with unfair school funding are likely to experience a deprivation of resources crucial for those students to succeed in school.

Improvements in school finance are often slow and deliberate. The Great Recession, followed by a slow recovery, caused dramatic shifts in state education budgets within a short, six-year time frame. Many states responded to the Recession by rapidly disinvesting [ridding of something that one no longer wants] in education and using federal stimulus funds to fill the breach. When those short-term funds were exhausted, many states did not respond by restoring state aid even though their overall budgets had improved and even though, as this report shows, many states have the fiscal capacity to do better.