According to recent data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the budget outlook for states grows bleaker by the day. In fact, with only two months left in most fiscal years, states must still close a combined $21.5 billion budget gap in order to comply with their balanced budget requirements. One of the chief concerns among states struggling to balance their budgets is meeting the new testing requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Since its enactment in January 2001, NCLB has been placed under a microscope, its various requirements and mandates questioned and compared to the amount of federal assistance that accompanies it. One question frequently raised is: Does the federal government provide enough money to fund its mandates?
In an article for the May 2003 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, William J. Mathis, superintendent of schools in Brandon, Vermont and teacher of education finance at the University of Vermont, examines the projected costs for 10 states to fulfill the requirements of NCLB. He concludes that the federal government asks too much from states and provides too little funding. In Indiana, for example, Mathis points to research that estimates that the state would have to increase its base education spending from $5,468 to $7,142 per pupil, a 31 percent increase, in order to meet the “commendable” level on state tests. In Montana, researchers found that current spending would have to increase between 34 percent and 80 percent, depending on location and level of need.
Overall, despite cost studies that vary considerably in methods, assumptions, and procedures, Mathis finds that the results are the same-more resources are necessary. He writes that providing a “standards-based” NCLB education for all children will “require massive new investments in education spending,” that the federal government is failing to provide. He concludes that, without additional resources, the law will, at best, “represent the attenuated efforts of an overpromising government, which will leave behind our poorest and most needy children.”
Maryland Struggles to Fund Commission’s Education Requirements
In another example of a tax decision affecting education funding, a key education initiative in Maryland is at risk of being cut after the governor vetoed a bill to increase corporate taxes by $135 million. The tax bill was needed to help pay for recommendations made by the Thornton Commission, a 22-member panel established by the Maryland General Assembly to help make decisions about how the state should finance public education. In 2001, the commission recommended a $1.1 billion increase in school aid over the next five years in order to help every student meet Maryland’s achievement standards. The commission had also recommended more money for school transportation and the redistribution of state aid so more money could go to schools in Baltimore city and high-poverty districts.
The Phi Delta Kappan article is available at: http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k0305mat.htm