One thing that is abundantly clear about K–12 education is that funding matters. And so do the basic concepts associated with school education budgets. While the federal and state budgetary processes are complex, this primer aims to provide a starting point in understanding the ABCs of school funding.
First Things First: Overall Funding
Overall annual funding for public K–12 schools and programs now totals an estimated $752 billion in the United States. While that number is very large, those dollars annually support an estimated 104,000 schools, 54.2 million students, and 4 million teachers in a decentralized system of 13,600 school districts spread out across the country and its territories.
Sources of Funds
The vast majority of funds that support K–12 education come from the federal government, state governments, and local governments such as counties, cities, towns, and townships. The source proportions vary. According to recent estimates, 47 percent of school funding is from state funds. Local governments provide another 44 percent, while 8 percent comes from the federal government.
Types of Funding: Allocations, Grants, & More
Government funding for K–12 schools and programs generally takes three forms:
- Allocations made on the basis of student enrollment; for example, the federal Title I program that makes funds available to schools based on the number of disadvantaged students.
- Grants for special programs. These programs usually have a set time period and/or performance objectives. Many federal and state grant programs are competitive and require an extensive application process.
- Short-term pilot or trial projects that may be funded through a variety of mechanisms, including direct allocation.
Appropriations are made in twelve-month periods defined by a government’s fiscal year. Most state governments start their fiscal year on July 1 and end it the following year on June 30. The majority of school districts also begin their fiscal year on July 1. The federal government’s fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30.
Next in the Funding Matters Series
This primer is only the start. Future blogs in this series will take a look at the K–12 programs that support language learners and their teachers, as well as recent funding increases at the state and federal levels.
By Jay A. Diskey
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