As another recession looms, states can strengthen education funding to soften the blow to schools

Financial experts have said time and time again that it is not a matter of if the United States will experience another recession, but when. And although it is extremely difficult to forecast when the economy will shift, or how policymakers at the local, state and federal level will respond, there appears to be a concern shared by many in education circles: a recession could easily upend policies throughout the country that prioritize equitable spending in schools.

In the last decade, many states have moved to rethink their school funding formulas and retool them to better provide additional resources for at-risk students. California, for instance, implemented its Local Control Funding Formula in 2013. Through LCFF, a uniform base grant is provided to each school district and charter school based on student attendance. Schools then receive supplemental funding to target spending efforts on disadvantaged student groups, including English learners, foster youth and those in low-income families.

During and in the years following the Great Recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009, about two-thirds of states cut education spending to make up for a loss in tax revenue. This approach led to cuts in the teacher workforce and student programs deemed non-essential. Schools are still dealing with the fallout today — the nationwide teacher shortage has been at least partially attributed to high-achieving students turning toward career paths they see as more stable.

And what pulled the economy up from the trenches before is perhaps comparable to Halley’s Comet, in that we’re unlikely to see it happen more than once in our lifetime.

Through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as “the stimulus,” Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration directed $100 billion to both K-12 and higher education. They followed that up with the $10 billion Education Jobs Act to help prevent thousands of educators from being laid off.

Sarah Abernathy, deputy executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, recently told Education Week that the stimulus represented a “once in my lifetime response to a really dire recession,” and that today’s economic and political landscapes are quite different.

That is why it is vital that state policymakers step up and commit to ensuring schools will remain funded to levels that provide students their best possible chance to achieve.

Not only does research continue to show that more spending on education is tied to higher test scores, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment, voters have overwhelmingly shown that they will back increases in education funding.

A recent CSBA poll showed six in 10 California voters said they would support a possible 2020 ballot initiative that would raise at least $11 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges by raising taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals.

In a recent op-ed, former Oakland Unified School District board member Nina Senn pointed to such results as evidence that lawmakers should listen to voters and prioritize children throughout the state.

Despite being known for having the fifth-largest economy in the world, California is also known for ranking near the bottom in per-pupil funding and student–teacher ratios. That is why Senn, as well as many district representatives, student and teacher advocates, and community members are calling for the Full and Fair Funding of Californian’s public schools to ensure every child is provided a high-quality education and the resources needed to succeed.