Better Funding for Public Schools

Children are back in school, and many parents are scared.

(Note: This article is about the variation in funding for public schools; our next article will discuss the fear of gun violence.)

Young children walking to school

Parents are afraid for their children who attend poorly maintained schools and learn in underfunded classrooms. Oftentimes there are leaks from ceilings and windows, overcrowding in rooms and hallways, severely limited school supplies and a whole host of additional challenges. Many public school children are not getting the same quality education as their peers in nearby towns where schools may receive more state and local funding from taxes. As you drive from town to town, you can see dilapidated buildings in one locality and well-cared-for buildings and grounds in another.

Parents in poorly funded school districts want change, but can sometimes feel powerless.

In Massachusetts, we encourage you to join with Stand for Children, whose mission is to ensure that all children, regardless of their background, graduate from high school prepared for, and with access to, college or career training. This August, the Massachusetts chapter of Stand for Children held a conference call for parents. They explained that it’s been 25 years since the state adjusted funding to meet the needs of its schools. This is part of the reason that our schools have become underfunded. During this conversation, lots of ideas and information was exchanged. Stand for Children is active in 10 states and we urge you to sign up and support its mission; you can also join the National Education Association, which is committed to advancing the cause of public education across the United States.

This important overview of school funding—10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding—along with new census data show that funds have been reduced over the years despite the increasing number of children in our schools.

As an example of how some public schools are funded in other states, California’s public schools receive funds from three separate sources: the state (57%); property taxes and other local sources (29%); and the federal government (14%). The proportion of funding from each source varies across school districts. The majority of revenue (almost 70%) is unrestricted general purpose funding. (Learn more: Financing California’s Public Schools)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average cost to send a child to public school for a year in 2013 was $10,700—but this average masks a wide variation that ranges from $6,555 per pupil in Utah, to $19,818 in New York. Here is more information on the variations in school spending from state to state.

Public schools in the United States are locally funded by property taxes. This means that schools in wealthier suburban cities and towns are more likely to have the best facilities overall. While public education is generally free, there are some associated fees that come with it, including the purchase of books, equipment and/or uniforms.

Now is the time to work on behalf of better funding for all of our public schools. Please join us in our efforts and consider supporting Stand for Children and the National Education Association.

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