Education matters. Early schooling is key for families with young children. Higher levels of education correlate with how much money we make and even how long we live. A degree unlocks doors and allows us to access to the “““American dream.””” College education can be a necessary step in building a comfortable life. And… we happen to be clicks away from learning any skill using our laptops.
This isn’t a comprehensive breakdown of every policy surrounding education. I’ll tell you what I think matters. Let me know what you care about. Let’s talk about how K-12 schools get their money, the dangers of expensive colleges, and how to handle online learning. Then, I’ll tell you what the old guys running for office think about it.
This is the first of the three briefs on education: K-12 Education Funding
Background: Every year, around 55 M student are enrolled in K-12 in the United States. While approx. 5 M enroll in private school, the vast majority are in the public education system. The US spends a LOT on education… but our students don’t perform very well. Weird, right?
Here’s the catch: not every state spends a lot on education. Federal funding is usually around 8% of a state’s total education budget. The rest of any school’s cash comes from their state and local funding. The percentages vary, but schooling is primarily a state and city issue. The federal government is there to help.
The results are what you’d expect: students do better in the states that spend more. It isn’t just a question of how much states are willing to spend. State budgets depend on tax rates and population sizes. As a rule, rich towns in wealthy states have better schools and poor towns in less wealthy states have worse schools.
Wealthy areas with strong schools create prepared students who get good jobs and bring that wealth back home: the schools get better and the people get richer. Poor areas have underfunded schools, leaving students with weak job opportunities and a hometown that stays poor: nothing changes.
I don’t believe that America should allow its poorest citizens to receive a worse public education simply because they aren’t born into wealth. We know that if we give schools more money, the kids get a better education. Those kids will grow up with stronger job prospects and the ability to bring money back to their community.
The federal education funding that states do receive comes mostly from Title I of the Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The federal government provides around $15 B annually through the program, with those school comprised of >40% low-income students being the primary recipients.
Here’s how we can use the ESEA to create high-quality K-12 education across the board:
- Increase the funding. Simple. More money in Title I means more funding for disadvantaged schools. The quality will rise.
- Require states to allocate their own funds based on the schools who need it most. Many states distribute their funds evenly. Some even allocate more resources to low-poverty districts compared to their most disadvantaged regions. Make need-based funding a requirement for the increased federal budget. Rich districts can still benefit from local property taxes, but the state doesn’t need to exacerbate inequality.
- Use a fully transparent, public algorithm that allows us to ensure the students in need are receiving the funding. No secrecy needed.
I think that raising the quality of education through federal funding in our poorer regions is the key to helping those communities create sustainable prosperity, but it’s worth mentioning that there’s a thousand things about K-12 education that deserve attention: teacher salaries, standardized testing, food quality, curriculum reform, and more. Take a look at what interests you.
WHAT DOES BIDEN THINK?
Vice President Biden is planning on tripling funding for Title I. He has an explicit focus on raising teacher salaries and benefits. He says that he hopes to expand extracurricular programs by offering financial rewards to participating teachers and forgiving their student loans.
Biden’s website speaks generally about plans for an increased number of “community schools,” which involves using local resources to turn the school into a community center. His website emphasizes the gap in education quality between both high/low-income and white/non-white areas.
“Biden will work to close this gap by nearly tripling Title I funding, which goes to schools serving a high number of children from low-income families. This new funding will first be used to ensure teachers at Title I schools are paid competitively, three- and four-year olds have access to pre-school, and districts provide access to rigorous coursework across all their schools, not just a few. Once these conditions are met, districts will have the flexibility to use these funds to meet other local priorities. States without a sufficient and equitable finance system will be required to match a share of federal funds,” reads his statement.
WHAT DOES TRUMP THINK?
President Trump has released his administration’s 2021 budget proposal and it is currently awaiting Congressional approval. There are two relevant highlights:
The budget cuts funding for the Department of Education by $5.6 B. That’s a 7.8% decrease from this year.
The budget consolidates a number of grants, including some of Title I, into a single $19.4 B fund. That same bundle of grants was worth $4.8 B more in 2020. The Department of Education says the idea behind the consolidation is to give states more control over how the money is spent. It is a common belief and a core conservative ideology that federal oversight can slow results and create unnecessary complications.
Trump plans to give less money for students and to give states more control of the spending. I won’t argue the ethics of that plan, but it is the opposite of what I’d like to see.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
When it comes to funding K-12 schools, the candidates have very different stances. Trump cuts funding. Biden expands it. If you want more funding for public education, that would be a reason to vote for Biden in 2020.
However, we need to hear more from Biden about what exactly states need to do. Much of his plan remains vague. He says that, “States without a sufficient and equitable finance system will be required to match a share of federal funds.” We have detailed reporting on which states allocate funds effectively to poor schools: in 17 states a poorer school is less likely to receive states funds. We should be hearing from Biden about what his rules actually look like.
Ask the Biden campaign for that information by filling out this form. It’ll pester you for a donation afterwards.