Public School Budgets Being Slashed As Parents Stop Using Them

Despite COVID relief funds, public school budgets are being slashed because of declines in enrollment numbers.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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public school budget

It has been a dreadful year for public schools across America. Things may have seemed optimistic as schools welcomed students back in person at the beginning of the year, but the return was far from the expected “normalcy”. Enrollment numbers have dropped since the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc across the world, and it is now effecting public school budgets in a major way, as parents continue to pull their children out of the system.

To show just how bad the issue has become, The Associated Press released an extensive report detailing districts across the nation where the public school budget issues are being felt the most. Much of this was brought on by the pandemic, but not necessarily because of it. In a rippling effect, parents received a first-hand look into what teachers taught via virtual classrooms. Similarly, politics not only made its way into pandemic issues but also the school system. Inevitably, America’s trust in the Department of Education waned. 

public school budget

Because more and more parents opted to keep their children at home for schooling, or pull them to alternatives like private or charter schools, districts’ public school budgets were slashed as well. States use various funding formulas to figure out each school’s budget. Those budgets are tied to a school’s headcount. As the headcount drops, schools lose more money.

When the government shelled out billions of dollars in federal relief money to schools, the funds were intended to ramp up academics amid learning losses. But still, these funds were only meant to be a temporary solution, and many fear the ramifications of declining enrollments will continue to effect public school budgets for years to come. Alex Spurrier, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners spoke of this, as he pointed out that the federal aid funds must be spent in their entirety by 2024.

Some states are feeling the sting from public school budget cuts much worse than others. Quite possibly the biggest effects will be felt in major cities, where enrollment losses dipped the worst. The Associated Press noted cities like Oakland and Albuquerque, where districts have — or are planning to — close multiple schools in an attempt to stay afloat. In Houston and Kansas City, districts are scrambling to find ways to make cuts, and more than likely those will happen via staff layoffs. The issue is so dire in Houston, that the district needs to find a way to shave $60 million from next year’s budget.

public school budget

Not every state is reeling from public school budget cuts – and it might be a sign as to why enrollment is declining in others. Florida is currently leading the nation with data depicting new student enrollment. Burbio found that the upward tick in headcounts in The Sunshine State was because of new families moving into districts. Furthermore, this may have been because of Florida’s spearheading efforts at promising education reform. Championed by the state’s Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, Florida has passed several pieces of legislation this year giving parents more rights and transparency in public education. Furthermore, the state led the way for strict legislation barring divisive concepts, and sexual education discussions for young elementary students. 

Given that Florida has seen quite the opposite in enrollment trends, it’s easy to estimate why so many parents are likely pulling their kids from public schools. In a growing pattern, more parents are demanding school choice – arguing that the per head funding amount should be given to the student, not the school district. But as more and more schools report startling shortages amid a waning public school budget, the situation is likely to get worse until a better solution is found.