Education Funding

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Education funding ebbs and flows with who is in office, their priorities, and the budgetary needs of the nation. When funding has fallen short for too long, performance slumps, and funding goes up to address the need. However, what is needed most is consistency. Throughout his presidency, Obama has made education and the stability of America’s children a top priority, and the legislative legacy that he leaves will do right by children for some time. However, in a boom and bust for profit economy in which education is enmeshed in there are no sure bets, and over time the trends have students and families shouldering more and more fiscal responsibility. 

Making Change Before It Is Too Late

Education funding has significantly improved under President Obama’s administration. The Bipartisan Budget Act passed in 2015 which empowers, “Title I, Title II, Preschool Development Grants, and the perennially underfunded IDEA is needed to ensure all students have greater opportunities and to help states and local communities begin to successfully implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” (NEA).

Education: This agreement will allow us to invest in education and Head Start. It will prevent per-student education funding from falling to the lowest levels since 2000, adjusted for inflation. And, without additional investment, Head Start would serve roughly 2,000 fewer children than in 2015, all else equal, and roughly 17,000 fewer children than in 2014. (Somander)

While these changes go a long way to support programs which were threatened with collapse, more is needed to shore up the struggling education system. Currently, the responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states under the Constitution. There is also a compelling national interest in the quality of the nation's public schools. Therefore, the federal government, through the legislative process, provides assistance to the states and schools in an effort to supplement, not supplant, state support. The primary source of federal K-12 support began in 1965 with the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). (U.S. Department of Education)

In response to the inconsistency of federal funding some states have moved to privatize some of their schools. However, many parents fear this would heighten the for-profit nature of education, making their children tools in the hands of administrators who no longer answer to the public. There is also the fear that in the long-term curriculum would begin to reflect the desires of the corporate owners rather than the will of the public. However, the result of such attempts have been:

Many “innovations” allowed these efforts to succeed, such as using inexperienced or noncertified teachers (as in Teach for America); ending career protections in favor of performance pay to save money on veteran teachers; and promoting technology to replace teachers (virtual charters, iPads, internet access, etc.). These were touted as ways to save money for taxpayers and improve student outcomes but really they place public tax dollars in the private sector with little or no accountability and have shown little to no improvement in student outcomes. (Public Schools First)

(Figure 1 omitted for preview. Available via download).

 The state and local levels provide the majority of funding for K-12 schools, and that is unlikely to change. President Obama continues to move towards greater funding for schools that will increase their sustainable support of culture. In 2015 his budget strove to:

Funding for Preschool Development grants would triple.

Programs authorized under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would increase by $2.7 billion (+11.8 percent). The Administration has largely abandoned its previous budget requests to consolidate several ESEA programs into new funding streams.

Funding for special education programs would increase by $300 million (+2.4 percent).

Career, technical, and adult education would increase by $208 million (+12.2 percent).

Student financial aid programs would be frozen at the FY 2015 level.

Higher education programs would increase by $147.2 million (+6.8 percent).

The Institute of Education Sciences would receive an increase of $101.9 million (+17.8 percent).

Departmental Management would increase by $280.2 million (+14.3 percent), with $184.9 million of that increase for Student Aid Administration and $30.7 million for the Office for Civil Rights. (Committee for Education Funding)

Also, many programs have been created which expand the impact and scope of education funding, but at the same time different programs have been cut to help support them, forcing states to get creative. This represents the fact that education funding is an ever changing tapestry of support and forcing chicks out of the nest. Since budgeting concerns change every year how education is funded changes as well. These changes add stress for students who often find themselves shouldering the costs of education more and more. In 2015:

Forty-seven states cut spending per student — all except Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

The cuts were significant in most states.  Average state spending per student fell $1,805, or 20 percent.

Students’ costs rose significantly.  Annual tuition at four-year public colleges rose by $2,068, or 29 percent. (Mitchell)

(Figure 2 omitted for preview. Available via download).

 This give and take to flux as the costs of education rise. However, the changes always seem to be rising, as in “Between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, 37 states raised per-student funding, by an average of nearly 4 percent, after adjusting for inflation; perhaps not coincidentally, average tuition at four-year colleges rose a mere 1.2 percent” (Mitchell). This is one reflection of education funding mixed up in the for-profit economy of America, in which everything is enmeshed. 

Hoping to work for the benefit of all students, President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has recently been implemented. This bill aims to address the gaps in achievement in poorer districts with a heavy minority student population. In ESSA, the LEARN Act addresses the foundational problems with elementary students reading abilities through funding $190 million to states to address, only 36 percent of America’s fourth graders are reading at. That means that 64 percent of students in one of the most important and formative years of their lives aren’t equipped with the building blocks necessary to understand the words on the pages in front of them in their assignments, or the concepts their teachers are putting on the in the classroom. (Lombardo)

While the Obama administration has done much to address this with funding, there are those who cite that only funding is not the answer. Larger contextual factors which influence student performance and success also play a role. 


Education funding has little consistency, but the apparent desire that education would be more affordable. The Obama administration has done much to address the funding pitfalls in the previous administration, but the overall inconsistency in funding remains. Emergent trends show that more and more cost is being shifted to the consumer growing as the grade level and degree desired does. Finding ways of removing education from the profit motive may be a strong way to support a focus on learning.


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Works Cited

Committee for Education Funding. “Education Matters: Investing In America’s Future.”, 2015. Retrieved from:

Lombardo, Michael. “Leveraging ESSA Funding to Help More Students Read.” The Huffington Post, 15 Jan. 2016. Retrieved from:

Mitchell, Michael. “Higher Ed Funding Cuts, State by State.” The Huffington Post, 28 Jan. 2016. Retrieved from:

NEA. “Education Funding.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Public Schools First. “Privatizing our public schools.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

U.S. Department of Education. “10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding.”, 2016. Retrieved from:

Somander, Tanya. “The Bipartisan Budget Agreement: What You Need to Know.” White House, 29 Oct. 2015. Retrieved from: