Though virtually every state leader claims to hold public education as a priority, schools have borne a disproportionate share of the budget cuts over the last four years. For the current year, while the whole state budget grew by 0.03%, K-12 education was cut by 0.7%. Of 16 major funding categories (state agencies), six saw their budgets increase and nine others joined K-12 in receiving less money in FY12 than they did in FY11.
Last year in FY11, the whole state budget received a significant cut of 9.36%, but with a dramatic cut of 11.94%, K-12 education absorbed a greater percentage decrease than the budget as a whole. In fact, of 16 major funding categories, 10 were cut by a lesser percent than was K-12 education. In three of the categories, budgets actually increased.
Trend in Education Funding
A look at the last few years shows a troubling trend: K-12 education appears to be slipping in terms of priority, taking the brunt of budget cuts. Since 2008, total state appropriations to K-12 have decreased by 9.7%, while the whole state budget has decreased by only 3.6%. That means that the K-12 budget has suffered cuts at more than twice the rate of the whole state budget. See chart. This begs the question: Is education really a priority of the State Legislature, or is the state’s budget being balanced on the backs of our children?
Prior to the recent four-year period of budget cuts, education funding had benefited from a four-year growth period, although it grew at a lesser pace than other state agencies. From FY07 to FY10, K-12 education funding grew by 15% compared to an increase of 39% in total state appropriations. In only one of those years, FY08, did schools actually receive the full amount of funding required by law for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP). While the Legislature appropriated full funding of the MAEP again in FY09, that funding was reduced significantly by mid-year budget cuts due to the recession.
When compared to school funding in other states, Mississippi is also lagging. We continue to invest considerably less in our school children than do other states, with a per-pupil spending ranking of 46th in the nation.
The 60% Myth
Politicians often use the percent of the state budget that is dedicated to public schools as evidence of their support of K-12 education. You have probably heard them claim that education makes up over 60% of the total state budget. That is simply not true. While it is true that all of education – including universities and community colleges – makes up about 61% of the General Fund portion of the state budget, the General Fund represents less than half of the total state budget, exclusive of federal funds.
Much of what is collected in state taxes and fees is diverted to special funds and is not considered a part of the General Fund appropriation. But this diverted revenue, like General Fund revenue, is made up of state taxes and fees paid by the people of Mississippi. It is simply diverted to specific state agencies rather than going into the General Fund.
The truth is, when all state taxes and fees are considered, K-12 education makes up about 23% of the state budget – a far cry from 60% – and K-12’s share of the budget has decreased steadily over the last several years.. See charts