Alabama’s K-12 funding cuts since 2008 are nation’s second deepest

Only one state has cut K-12 education funding more deeply than Alabama since the Great Recession began, according to a new report released Oct. 16, 2014, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C. On a per-pupil basis, Alabama led the nation in cuts.

The cuts have slowed Alabama’s economic recovery and could hurt the state’s future economic growth, Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister said. Alabama needs good schools and an educated workforce to compete in a global economy,” Forrister said. “Education opens the doors of opportunity for everyone, and we only hurt ourselves when we undermine it.”

The state’s investments in K-12 education this school year, adjusted for inflation, are 17.8 percent below fiscal year (FY) 2008 levels. That means Alabama’s state school funding cuts over the last seven years are deeper than in all other states except Oklahoma, the CBPP found. The cuts mean Alabama is spending $1,128 less per pupil than it did in FY 2008 – $114 steeper than in any other state. Alabama’s per-pupil K-12 spending ticked up by a mere $16 this year, the study found.

Lawmakers could take three steps to boost Alabama’s investments in public education, Forrister said: end the state’s income tax deduction for federal income taxes (FIT); repeal the Alabama Accountability Act, under which millions of dollars that could support public education go to private schools instead; and amend the Rolling Reserve Act that caps annual state education spending levels.

The FIT deduction’s benefits are skewed heavily toward the richest households, Forrister said. Ending it could raise tens of millions of dollars for K-12 classrooms and also provide enough revenue to allow Alabama to stop taxing groceries. Forrister also urged lawmakers to modify the Rolling Reserve Act to reduce the influence that the Great Recession’s record-setting revenue drops hold over today’s education spending. One way to do that, he said, would be to base education funding levels on a 20-year rolling average rather than the current 15-year average.

“Underfunding education today will leave our state with fewer highly skilled workers tomorrow,” Forrister said. “We can’t strengthen Alabama’s economy by eroding our foundation for economic growth.”

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