States Under Pressure to Fund Education

State constitutional requirements to fund education are a reminder, and, in some cases, a legal basis for forcing state education funding increases. As reported in Slate, the courts have found that Washington State needs to supplement education funding provided by local governments to account for differences in statewide education funding and teacher salaries. As described,

A decadeslong standoff over school funding in Washington state reached a dramatic climax last week when the state’s Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to pay a fine of $100,000 a day until lawmakers figure out a more equitable way to fund K–12 education before 2018. . . The daily six-figure fine doesn’t seem to be adding excessive urgency to proceedings. Compared with other solutions that have been floated, $100,000 a day is actually somewhat conservative. When, in 1976, New Jersey was in a similar situation, the Supreme Court shut down the schools for eight days. The fruits of that conflict remain with New Jerseyites to this day, for the need to fund schools more fairly is what led New Jersey in 2011 to adopt a state income tax for the first time.

In Maryland, the State government now pays approximately half of the funding for K-12 education (48%), with local governments providing the other half (46%) and the federal government making up the difference, as described by the Department of Legislative Services.

This was not always the case, however. Prior to a 1994 lawsuit by the ACLU and the subsequent Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, the State provided a significantly smaller share of education funding.

As described by the Department of Legislative Services,

The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002 increased the State’s financial support for public schools significantly, especially during the phase-in of the Act through fiscal 2008. State education aid increased from $2.9 billion in fiscal 2002 to $5.1 billion in fiscal 2008. . . This represents an increase of 79.0% in State support for public education. Since fiscal 2008, State aid has increased more modestly, growing $888 million, or 17.0%. Even so, State aid will grow at an average annual increase of 5.9% from fiscal 2002 to 2015, outpacing the 4.1% average rate of general fund revenue growth expected over the same 13-year period.

The State of Maryland is currently undertaking a new study of the adequacy of education funding. For more information about this study, and links to its interim reports, see our previous posts, Is Maryland Counting Its Low-Income Students Correctly?, and Study Recommends School Formula Changes For Enrollment Gains, Drops.

For more information on education funding in Washington State, see the whole story from Slate, and for more information about education funding in Maryland, see the Legislative Handbook, Education in Maryland, from the Department of Legislative Services.