Federal Budget Cuts Likely for Education

Published October 20, 2011

Proponents of higher federal education spending could end up happier with the stopgap bill Congress passed in early October than whatever the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee proposes later this year. 

Congress passed another Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government with $1 trillion through November 18. It trimmed federal education spending by $2.4 billion, or 3.5 percent of the $69 billion it allotted to education for fiscal year 2012. Congress appropriated $71.4 billion to education for fiscal year 2011.

The debt ceiling deal Congress passed in August automatically triggers $3.5 billion in education cuts if the Reduction Committee can’t agree on an alternative by December 23. 

Few Cuts in 2012 Budget
The House 2012 budget would end projects such as Race to the Top and the School Improvement Grant program and eliminate 31 education programs. That budget would cut federal education funding little, however, instead redirecting about $2 billion cut to increases in Title I funding for poor districts and special education. 

The House Appropriations committee has not yet held hearings on the 2012 education budget. The 2012 fiscal year began Oct. 1. 

‘Bleak’ Fiscal Outlook
The fiscal outlook for the nation’s 14,000 school districts is “bleak—not just for next year, but for a half decade or more,” says a recent American Enterprise Institute report. 

The school-funding storm involves lagging property-tax revenues due to the recession and pressure on state budgets from increasing Medicaid enrollment, underfunded pension obligations, and expiring federal bailouts. States provide nearly half of all local school districts’ revenues, compared to approximately 8 percent from Washington. 

Poor and disabled students already get a disproportionate amount of federal education spending, so they will necessarily be more affected by funding cuts, said Neal McCluskey, a Cato Institute education analyst. 

McCluskey cites National Assessment of Education Progress data demonstrating little difference from exposing detailed information about minority, poor, and disabled children under the federal No Child Left Behind law, much less the myriad programs that have cropped up in the past 50 years to little advances among such students. 

“Since those dollars haven’t been doing any good, losing them won’t do any real harm,” McCluskey said. “Washington has greatly increased funding for programs like Title I for decades without any meaningful evidence doing so improves outcomes.” 

Shielded from Severe Cuts
Although state government employment overall has declined by about 2 percent since December 2007, state education jobs increased more than 2 percent, the AEI report notes. The gap is even larger between local education employment, which fell by less than 1 percent during that time, and private-sector jobs, which declined 7 percent. 

Between 1970 and 2010, federal per-pupil spending rose 375 percent, according to the Digest of Education Statistics. While American schools cut student-teacher ratios from 23-1 in the early 1970s to about 15-1 today, “this massive increase in staffing has shown no evidence of academic benefits,” the report states. 

Image by John Stavely.