Helped by Strong State Revenues, Governors Call for Boosting Spending on K-12 Education

Staff Writer

Governors from both parties, including those who won election last year, are calling for increased spending in K-12 education, proposals made possible by robust tax revenues. 

Democrat Andy Beshear of Kentucky and Republicans Brian Kemp of Georgia and Eric Holcomb of Indiana are among those who have laid out their plans to boost funding for schools in state of the state addresses to legislatures over the past month. 

Common themes across those spending plans include raising teacher pay, programs to help with recovery from learning loss, mental health, boosting aid for special needs students, amending the state’s per-pupil funding formula, and expanding school safety resources. 

While the proposed budgets have a long way to go before being approved by state legislatures, analysts say the economic conditions for bringing additional money to education remain favorable. 

Overall right now, states remain in a strong fiscal position, said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies for the National Association of State Budget Officers. “We’re seeing continued growth, state spending, and revenue, although not at the level of the past two years.” 

State economies have slowed a bit recently, he said. And a variety of factors, such as further interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, aimed at curbing inflation, could lead to a continued slowdown. 

Overall right now, states remain in a strong fiscal position. We’re seeing continued growth, state spending, and revenue, although not at the level of the past two years.Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies, National Association of State Budget Officers

The double-digit growth in tax collections that states have seen over recent years is in part due to federal COVID-19 aid, which helped to stimulate the economy, Sigritz said. This strong revenue growth has led to fortified rainy-day funds and large state budget surpluses, some of which will be invested heavily into education at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. 

One state putting heavy emphasis on education is Minnesota, where a projected $17.6 billion surplus is available for this year’s budget.  

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s budget proposal calls for $5.2 billion for the upcoming two-year budget cycle and $12 billion for the next four years. The portion detailing new school funding increases calls for more than $700 million for the current two-year cycle and more than $1.4 billion over the next two years. 

Walz, a former classroom teacher whose reelection campaign focused heavily on education, announced in his speech a plan to add 4 percent to the per-pupil school funding formula this year. Another 2 percent would be added the following year, accounting for future spending increases along with inflation. 

Other priorities in Walz’s proposal include providing free meals to all students, bolstering spending for special education, and improving on mental health services for youth and students. 

Incentives for Teachers 

The governors’ proposals for new K-12 funding come as states and school districts continue to try to come back from setbacks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Districts are seeing a workforce shortage as teacher satisfaction hits an all-time low, and states and school systems have endured historic declines in national math and reading scores. 

States and school districts are also aware that the huge flow of federal stimulus aid — which has provided an estimated $190 billion to K-12 over the past few years — is scheduled to expire after next year. 

In Maryland, public education would be one of the beneficiaries of billions of dollars of unassigned surplus money, under a proposal brought forward by Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, who was sworn into office last month. 

Moore plans to put $500 million extra into the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund, which includes initiatives such as improving career- and college-prep programs, creating more community schools in low-income neighborhoods, and raising teacher pay. 

Proposals include funding boosts for higher teacher pay, early childhood education, and support for mental-health programs in schools.
We need to do a better job supporting the teachers we already have,” Moore said in his speech to state lawmakers on Feb. 1. He urged the Democrat-controlled legislature to strengthen the pipeline of qualified teachers in our state.” 

Not all states, however, are calling for increased spending on elementary and secondary education. In California, which faces a projected budget deficit, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signaled that K-12 funding will not rise next year, the first time it has not done so in a decade. 

In Newsom’s proposed state budget, he projected a decrease of $1.5 billion below the $110.4 billion that was approved last June for funds that go toward TK-12 and community colleges. 

Per-student funding under this plan would rise though, despite less money, due to declining rates of enrollment. 

Other K-12 highlights from governor’s addresses to lawmakers and budget proposals, as reported by the National Association of State Budget Officers, include: 

  • Arizona: Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs’ speech called for scaling back school vouchers, launching an Education Retention Task Force, reforming per-pupil funding, and expanding mental health resources. 
  • Georgia: Kemp’s budget proposal includes more than $1.1 billion in increases for K-12 education. More than $303 million of that will go toward salary increases of $2,000 for teachers and other certified personnel. A proposed $26.9 million would support school counselors with the goal of bolstering students’ mental health and wellbeing. 
  • Indiana: Holcomb proposed boosting school funding by 6 percent next year, the largest increase in more than a decade. He also wants to eliminate textbook fees for public school students and raise statewide average teacher pay to at least $60,000 a year, about $3,000 higher than the average for last school year. 
  • Kentucky: Beshear’s plan includes a 5 percent pay raise for educators to help address teacher vacancies, mental health services for students, and student loan forgiveness for public school teachers. 
  • Nebraska: Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, proposed creating the Education Future Fund to meet the needs of special education students. He also called for structural reform to the state education formula and a 3 percent growth cap on spending for school districts, which has sparked concern among district officials. 
  • Oregon: Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, is calling for funneling more than $9 billion to public schools, with a focus on areas such as student literacy, summer enrichments programs, and ethnic studies.
  • Wisconsin: In his speech to state lawmakers, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers pointed to Wisconsin’s $6.6 billion state surplus and proposed having $270 million in new funding go toward expanding mental health care for students. He also prioritizes improving reading and literacy outcomes, reducing class sizes, and supporting teacher recruitment and retention efforts. 

Sigritz said that while overall, states are benefitting from positive economic conditions, there’s also anxiety among state officials about the year ahead. 

“States will have to closely monitor what’s going on in the economy,” Sigritz said. “There’s uncertainty for a number of different reasons — inflation, what’s happening at the federal level, geopolitical issues.” 

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Photo: Maryland Gov. Wes Moore gives his first state of the state address, two weeks after being sworn as governor, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Annapolis, Md. (Julio Cortez/AP)

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