Despite growing evidence that education is the key to a strong economy, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) finds that budget cuts during the Great Recession have reduced states’ ability to invest in K-12 education. While Louisiana fared better than some states, per-student spending between FY08 and FY14 dropped more than 4 percent when adjusted for inflation. That’s equivalent to $212 less in state support for each student.
The finding is hardly surprising, as state policymakers have failed to fully fund the K-12 Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) for five straight years. While overall funding has gone up due to enrollment growth, per-student funding has been frozen since 2008, resulting in $560 less in basic support for each student. Frozen funding means larger class sizes, fewer tutoring opportunities and cancelled after school programs.
The MFP is Louisiana’s constitutional formula that provides much of the funding for K-12 students (local taxes provide most of the rest). Per-student funding is supposed to grow by a 2.75 percent inflation factor every year to cover the ever-growing cost of everything from textbooks to salaries to gasoline for buses, but recently has failed to keep pace. This year, the Legislature did include a separate appropriation in the budget that is equivalent to a one-year increase, but it is not built into the underlying MFP formula. That means it could turn out to be a one-time bump, when what schools and students need is steady, predictable support.
Investing in education at all levels is crucial for building a 21st century economy that creates high-paying jobs. Unfortunately, Louisiana’s ill-advised commitment to budget cuts undermines that investment.