Insights and Trends in Student Enrollment

As school district budgets reach their breaking point, something’s gotta give.

Posted August 30, 2018

If they weren’t there already, it seems that across the country, school district budgets are in terrible shape. And it might only get worse. Largely, school operating costs are rising – while overall funding is retracting. And in some places, the cuts are coming from more than one side.

In the majority of states, “total state funding per student was lower in the 2015 school year than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold,” reports the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (using the latest numbers available). And in “19 states, local government funding per student fell over the same period,” compounding the damage.

When one considers that federal discretionary funding, which is often used for education, is also at record lows, it shouldn’t be surprising to see headlines about a Colorado school district switching to a 4-day week to save money. Or rumors of a budget deficit so large in Los Angeles county there’s talk of appointing a financial advisor. Let’s face it, when a Texas district is selling ad space on the side of school busses in an attempt to close their budget gap, the effects of budget cuts are being felt every day.

Districts are also strapped because their operating costs are growing. And while teacher salaries and benefits are a part of that, neither should be up for consideration when it comes to cuts. It’s actually where more funding should go, since recent analysis from The 74 reports we’re underwater, “paying increasingly more to reduce current benefit debts than fund benefits for current teachers.”

Increasing teacher funding isn’t just the right thing to do, the tax-paying public – 49% actually – supports it too. And the support is even greater in states where teachers are striking, an EdNext poll has found, with 63% of respondents favoring boosting teacher pay in six impacted states.

So, where will the money come from? While the same poll finds 47% of respondents think overall school spending should increase (which is a notable increase of 7 percentage points from the prior year), tax-payers will only foot so much of any bill. Thankfully, this is where EdTech can come in.

Many of the latest and greatest academic or instructional apps are indeed important contributions to education (and ultimately, to society). But one could argue using technology for the greater fiscal good is still a novel idea. And timely, outdated operational workflows are a painless place to make cuts. At SchoolMint, we’re very much focused on creating products that allow districts to spend fewer resources on administrative costs and save money in the long run.

Take registration. When districts switch from manual, paper processes to Online Registration, they can save days of staff time and hundreds of thousands of dollars. When Application and Lottery Management tools generate predictive data, districts can see future population shifts and changing demands – allowing them to better allocate financial resources. And on campuses, when districts use Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (or similar strategies) to create more positive school climates and culture, teacher retention is higher. And that’s key because attrition is one of the costliest problems a district today can face.

By all means, let’s better fund our future. But let’s also adopt solutions that can take the lemons currently in front of us and squeeze more out of less.

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