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Public Support for More School Spending is Starting to Wane

In the two years leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, public support for school spending surged and K-12 leaders exploited the moment: Districts placed levy increases on the ballot and teachers demanded pay raises.

That support now is starting to dip, according to a recently released survey by the journal Education Next. That's bad news for districts that will need local property owners to keep cash flowing as state revenue crashes.  

Less than half of the respondents this year felt like school spending should increase, though that's still a record high, according to the survey.

During the last recession, public support had dipped more than 20 percentage points to below 50 percent as unmployment increased and Republicans and Democrats alike lashed out at politicians for high tax rates. 

But over the years, it bounced back as teachers began to complain publicly about stagnant pay and several large urban districts fell into fiscal distress as state revenue failed to keep pace with increased costs. 

The pandemic has sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing again, and many families are on the brink of being evicted from their homes as congressional relief expires. 

Some community activists are calling for districts such as Cleveland and Denver to take property tax increase measures off this fall's ballot, considering the state of the economy. Property taxes are already disproportionately higher in low-income, majority Black and Latino communities, though their local districts are the ones that will lose the most amount of state aid in the coming years as a result of recession-driven cutbacks.

Despite the pandemic, Milwaukee earlier this year managed to get a historic property tax increase passed amid surging support for public schools. 

Education Next's poll, which asks the public several questions about their perceptions of public schools, found that Democratic, Black, and Latino respondents are more likely to back a boost in funding than are Republican and white respondents.

Read about the poll's other findings here.

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