Better Funding for Public Schools: Ask Your Legislators to Act!



“School funding is a mix of federal, state, and local funding sources distributed through complex and ever-changing formulas, making it all too easy for elected leaders to use half-truths and lies to slash education budgets and divert taxpayer dollars from public schools. Pro-public education advocates can’t allow that to happen.”

National Education Association (NEA) | School Funding: Learn the Facts and How to Use Them



As public schools begin to wind down for summer, now is the perfect time to let your local legislators know that we need better funding for public schools. Most state legislative sessions begin in January, which means your state legislature is likely in session. (Not sure? Check with Ballotpedia for legislative session dates by state for 2019.)

Did you know? Public schools in the United States are locally funded by property taxes. This means that schools in wealthier districts are more likely to have better facilities. Many times you can see the difference in public schools when driving from town to town.

In 2005 the U.S. Department of Education published an important overview of school funding—10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding—that showed that education funds had been drastically reduced over the years despite an increase in the number of students attending our schools. More than 12 years later, census data from 2018 showed that these dramatic cuts to school funding have only continued.

In Massachusetts it has been 25 years since state funding has been adjusted to meet the needs of its 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 variation in school spending from state to state.

Taking Action for Public School Funding

Today, in streets across the country, many teachers, parents and public school supporters are making their voices heard. In cities like Sacramento, California and Portland, Oregon, wide-scale rallies, marches and walkouts are bringing attention to inadequate school funding and basic public school needs, including:

  • Higher teacher salaries to meet the cost of living;
  • Better funding for disabled students;
  • Increased funding in low-income school districts;
  • Smaller class sizes for all teachers;
  • Repairs on leaking roofs, windows and more; and
  • Better care of school playgrounds.

How Schools Are Funded

Among the nation’s school districts, annual funding per student can range from less than $4,000 to more than $15,000. The “typical” school district with 1,000 or more students receives roughly $5,000 per year for each student, and affluent districts may receive $10,000 per student or more.

A combination of state funds, local sources such as property taxes (and in some cases income taxes), and federal funds pay the per student costs. The amount of state funds that a district. or sometimes an individual school, receives is based on a formula that takes into account the student enrollment numbers and the property wealth of the parents in the school district. The average school district receives about 44 percent of its funds from the local government, 47 percent from the State and 7% from the federal government.

Last year in response to strong advocacy from teachers and parents, Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, increased funding for public schools. These are 4 of 12 states that had cut school “formula” funding in the last 10 years. Despite these improvements, formula funding remains well below 2008 levels in these states. Students in Michigan and Rhode Island have filed class-action lawsuits against their states for failing to provide the funding necessary for adequate public education. (Source:

Supporting School Funding

If you’re interested in advocating for better funding for schools, consider supporting Stand for Children whose mission is to ensure that graduation from high school is followed by access to college or career training. Stand for Children is active in 10 states including Arizona, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas. You can also join the National Education Association (NEA) which is committed to advancing the cause of public education across the United States. A recent movement launched by NEA known as Red for Ed is tackling school finding head on:

“Educators don’t enter the profession expecting to get rich. They do it because they love teaching and because they have an unwavering belief in their students… Today we see budgets being cut, overcrowded classrooms and outdated materials. We see educators working around the clock to make a difference in the lives of their students and standing up to lawmakers to ask for better pay and school funding. We’re raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators.”

If you believe our public schools deserve better, we urge you to support these important initiatives and let you own voice be heard by contacting your local legislators.

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