ELC report examines chronic underfunding laid bare by Covid-19 pandemic

December 13, 2022


NEWARK, N.J. – Millions of students across the U.S. attend schools that lack the resources needed for academic success and social-emotional wellbeing, especially given the historic challenges of the pandemic, according to Education Law Center’s (ELC) Making the Grade 2022 report released today.

ELC’s annual Making the Grade report examines the condition of public school funding across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report ranks and grades each state on three measures to answer the key question: how fair is school funding in your state?

This year’s report provides data on school funding in the states during the 2019-20 school year, the historic moment when the Covid-19 pandemic caused massive disruptions to schools and society at large. Because of persistent funding inadequacies and inequities, many schools, especially those serving low-income communities, were not equipped to educate students during a public health crisis. As the report explains, these schools often lacked the technology, modernized buildings, and access to support staff to address student needs.

Making the Grade 2022 is published as states, schools, and districts leverage historic federal investment in education to help students make up for missed learning time. While this funding has been critical to recovery efforts, the report warns that most states are ill-prepared to maintain the necessary level of support once the federal relief funding runs dry.

“The pandemic’s effect on schools and students is a long-term challenge that requires long-term solutions,” said ELC Executive Director and report co-author David Sciarra. “The temporary balm provided by federal Covid relief funding does not erase the underlying, pre-pandemic disparities in school funding documented in this report.”

Using the most recently available data from the 2019-20 school year, Making the Grade 2022 evaluates states’ education funding systems on three critical measures of fairness:

  • Funding Level measures the combined state and local revenues provided to school districts, adjusted for regional cost differences. The report finds that funding varies dramatically across states, from $10,244 per pupil in Arizona, to $26,605 per pupil in New York.
  • Funding Distribution measures the allocation of funds to school districts relative to the concentration of students from low-income families. Nineteen states have a “progressive” distribution system, meaning additional funds are distributed to districts with high levels of student poverty. Seventeen states have “regressive” systems, meaning high-poverty districts receive less funding than low-poverty districts.
  • Funding Effort measures investment in K-12 public education as a percentage of a state’s economic productivity (GDP). High-effort states, such as New Jersey, Vermont, and Wyoming, generate above average funding levels, while low-effort states, such as Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina, have the fiscal wherewithal to improve their below average funding to levels more in line with the national average.

Making the Grade 2022 also documents how states have moved up or down in the rankings since 2008:

  • On funding level, Illinois, Washington, and California all climbed double-digits in their rankings since 2008. In Illinois, that meant moving from a D to an A rating, while Washington and California went from Fs to a C and D, respectively. Six states fell by ten or more spots.
  • On funding distribution, three states that previously had regressive funding systems now have mildly progressive systems: New York, North Dakota, and North Carolina. Meanwhile, five “flat” states became regressive: Nevada, Connecticut, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Kentucky.
  • Despite the economic recovery from the 2008 Great Recession, school funding has not kept pace in most states, leaving the effort index lagging behind. Between 2009 and 2020, states lost out on a total of $725 billion in state and local funding by not maintaining their funding effort at pre-Recession levels.

The report documents the ongoing impact of education cuts many states made in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession and warns of another fiscal cliff when Covid relief funding expires in 2024.

“For the millions of students whose education was disrupted by the pandemic, going back to ‘normal’ funding levels could be devastating,” said ELC Research Director and report co-author Dr. Danielle Farrie. “It’s incumbent upon states to avoid a repeat of the Great Recession by increasing and equitably distributing their own investments in education.”

Despite bleak conditions nationwide, the recent midterm election results show that the fight to strengthen public education is gaining steam in many states. Across the U.S., voters recently elected candidates who’ve pledged to support school finance reform and approved ballot measures to increase education funding. In New Mexico, for example, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to guarantee the right to early childhood education. In Massachusetts, voters approved a “millionaire’s tax” that is expected to generate over $2 billion a year earmarked for education and transportation.

Making the Grade 2022 is coauthored by Dr. Danielle Farrie, ELC Research Director, and David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. View the full report and explore findings with interactive tools online

Founded in 1973, Education Law Center (ELC) pursues education equity and justice to ensure that all students receive a high-quality public education effectively preparing them to participate as citizens in a democratic society and as valued contributors to a robust economy. It does so through litigation, research and policy analysis, advocacy, and strategic partnerships with education and civil rights organizations across the nation. ELC focuses on state policy and practices that affect the learning and well-being of every student, with special concern for impacts on students of color and those from low-income families.

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x 240

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240