Last week, the President’s Proclamation on American Education Week sang the praises of the nation’s public education system and boasted that “my Administration has secured a historic $130 billion for America’s K-12 schools. This funding has put more teachers in our classrooms and more counselors, social workers, and other staff in our schools.” How much do you know about the massive Covid-era infusion of federal education funds? Can you identify which of the following statements about K-12 education funding in America is not true?
A. The amount of K-12 education funding provided by the federal government to states and school districts has soared since 2019.
B. The federal government provided supplemental emergency K-12 funding so that schools could hire more teachers and other permanent staff members.
C. School districts will encounter a perfect storm of self-inflicted financial chaos next year when federal pandemic-era supplemental funding expires and district enrollment continues to rapidly decline.
Let’s take these statements one at a time:
A. TRUTH! The annual federal appropriation for The U.S. Department of Education has increased from $71.1 billion in fiscal year 2019 to $79.6 billion in fiscal year 2023. In addition to annual federal education funding, Congress created the supplemental Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) as part of the CARES Act, the initial pandemic-relief package passed in March 2020. The CARES Act provided $13 billion in temporary supplemental ESSER funds. States and school districts also received two additional federal Covid-era temporary K-12 funding infusions—CRRSA provided $54 billion and ARP appropriated $130 billion in ESSER funds.
B. LIE! Of course, school districts should never hire permanent staff members with temporary funding. ESSER funds were designed to be used to support online learning in the early months of the pandemic, help districts open schools as the pandemic continued, and address learning loss caused by prolonged school closures. When the $190 billion in supplemental federal K-12 ESSER funding ends next year, many districts are going to be in a financial crisis because they hired “teachers in our classrooms and more counselors, social workers, and other staff in our schools” with temporary funding. This “fiscal cliff” is a problem of districts’ own making.
C.TRUTH! School districts will encounter a perfect storm of self-inflicted financial chaos next year brought on by the expiration of federal pandemic-era supplemental funding and rapidly declining district enrollment. Demographics are the primary driver of enrollment decline, but students also left public schools when districts refused to open schools during the pandemic. School district leaders must acknowledge that the $190 billion in temporary “emergency relief” federal K-12 funding will end soon, and make responsible financial decisions that prioritize students’ needs over the adult employees hired with temporary funding.
To learn more about the K-12 Education System’s Imminent Financial Chaos, please join IWF for an event featuring Marguerite Roza, Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, and a panel of education finance experts. The event will take place at the National Press Club on November 29, 2023, from 12:30 to 2:45 PM. RSVP here and visit the event page here.