The budget picture for states is improving incrementally, but not quickly or significantly enough to stave off cuts to K-12. Eighteen states made recent, midyear budget cuts to school programs, according to a new survey released today.
Overall, 19 states made midyear cuts in aggregate in fiscal 2011. That's a significant improvement from a year ago, when 39 states made overall reductions, totaling $18.3 billion, and 35 states made midyear cuts to schools.
The 2011 fiscal year would have ended in June in the majority of states, so the midyear budget cuts to K-12 would have been put in place before then. But the effect of those reductions carry forward and are being felt in schools now, explained officials from the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers, which published the report, called the Fiscal Survey of the States.
While state budgets are improving "they are likely to remain constrained due to the lack of a strong national economic recovery and the withdrawal of federal stimulus funds," the authors explain.
Overall, state legislatures approved fiscal 2012 budgets that call for a 2.9 percent increase in general fund spending over fiscal 2011. In one sense, that's a big turnaround from the depths reached by states during the economic downturn: In fiscal 2010, states' nominal general fund budgets fell by 5.7 percent.
On the other hand, the total size of state general fund budgets in fiscal 2012, $666.6 billion, is still 3 percent below prerecession levels, the report says. And 29 states continue to have lower general fund spending in fiscal 2012 than they did during the prerecession high of $687 billion in fiscal 2008.
"We have growth, but it is slow, tepid growth," Scott D. Pattison, executive director of NASBO, told reporters on a conference call.The survey mirrors "what we're seeing economically" in national trends.
One important point made by NASBO officials: While many states have made mid-year budget cuts to K-12, overall spending on schools, nationwide, is slated to rise by about $1.3 billion in fiscal 2012. Higher ed isn't so lucky: Overall spending will fall by $3.2 billion. (See Table 13.)
Why have states targeted K-12 systems for mid-year reductions? The simple explanation is that school spending consumes a big chunk of state budgets, which means that when overall funding gets chopped, education tends to feel the pain.
States tend to "go where the money is," Pattison said.