Education Equity by the Numbers

by Fred Jones // May 3, 2019

Last November the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) released a candidate comparison analysis showcasing the education policy differences between the two frontrunners vying for the governor’s office in each southern state. As an extension of the gubernatorial candidate analysis project, SEF recently reviewed the education budget proposals from eight governors in the South and conducted an equity analysis of their respective education budget proposals.

Why Focus on Governors’ Proposed Budgets
The state budget development process cannot be overstated. The most intrinsic duty of governors and state lawmakers is to debate on and pass a budget that funds state and local public programs. The unveiling of the budget proposal signals the official start of the negotiation process between the respective state legislature and governor’s office.

Additionally, roughly 90 percent of education funding comes from state and local revenue sources, and in many states, education is one of the largest budgetary items in the state budget. Governors drive state investment decisions in critical areas like education, and little can be advanced if programs or policies are not presented in a governor’s budget proposal.

Overall Trends
Most states experienced strong revenue growth in fiscal 2018 and early fiscal 2019, resulting in more “new money” to spend on key priorities. In their budget proposals for fiscal 2020, governors directed a significant portion of these new resources into early education, K-12 funding formulas, teacher pay, school safety, and higher education. Below are some of the most common areas of investment, based on governors’ budgets released to date. The state examples provided are meant to be illustrative but not exhaustive.

  • Pre-K/Early Childhood Education – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina governors suggested significant funding increases to expand early childhood education.
  • K-12 Funding Formula – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee governors proposed increased investments to state funding formulas to address underfunding to the public education system.
  • Teacher Pay Increase – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee governors all proposed salary increases to the teacher workforce for FY2020.
  • School Safety – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee governors all proposed a budget that funds school safety measures.

SEF is also deeply disappointed by some governors’ efforts to use public funds to expand access to private schools. For example, Tennessee’s first-term Governor Bill Lee proposed to create a new $25 million Education Savings Account (ESA) program to pay for private elementary and secondary schools. Governor Cooper in North Carolina continues level funding to existing school voucher and ESA programs scheduled to amass over $16 million in public funding. And Governor Edwards in Louisiana put forward a budget with a $42 million ESA program, which is one of the highest funded school privatization programs in the country. Research, however, consistently shows that school choice programs that expand access to private schools do not improve academic performance. Yet, that has not slowed down efforts by southern states to advance private school choice programs rather than refocusing efforts to improve traditional public schools.

SEF has provided a medium to engage the public on the information included in state budgets proposals. As education advocates, we hope this fact-based information may be used to encourage state lawmakers and governors to adopt policies that help Black, Brown, and low-income students succeed in public schools.