The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students offers a couple of helpful charts to illustrate the hole we’ve dug for our state funding of K-12 education:
The first chart shows that since FY1996, back around the time we changed the K-12 funding formula, we’ve increased state aid to education 149%. Mash all of the general fund items listed above together, and you’ll see that we’ve increased overall state spending by 143%. So we have increased out support for K-12 at slightly better than our overall budget growth, and we’ve continued to spend more on K-12 than on any other budget category.
That said, we’ve found the political will to increase funding for three other budget areas at even faster rates. Over the last twenty years, we’ve boosted Medicaid 279%, public protection by 176%, and social services by 172%.
The Blue Ribboneers phrase the differential oddly, as if it just happened:
Over the past 20 years, the state has had to face a variety of budgetary issues. State funding for K-12 schools has increased 149% over that period. That number could have been larger, but the increase in the state Medicaid budget of 279% over that same period has limited the revenue available for all other priorities, including education.
Because of the twenty year growth trend in Medicaid, the share of the State’s General Fund budget has decreased even though the amount of money given to schools through the per student allocation has increased [Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students, final report, 2015.11.11, pp. 9–10].
Medicaid doesn’t just come and eat up revenue on its own. Medicaid, like funding for K-12, college, and cops, is a budget choice made by legislators, like those on the Blue Ribbon panel, and the Governor who convened this panel. Medicaid didn’t limit the revenue available; legislators and the Governor did.
Hold that while we look at the next chart, showing that even as the dollar figure we put toward K-12 funding went up, K-12 education’s share of the state budget has dwindled back to the pre-formula-reform lows of the mid-1990s:
Governor Bill Janklow and the mid-1990s K-12 formula reform apparently boosted K-12 funding to 39% of the state general fund. Governors Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard let that share (i.e., indicator of the priority we place on K-12 education) slide back to 29%.
Nothing says we had to spend 279% more on Medicaid over the last two decades, no more than anything says Governor Daugaard has to expand Medicaid now under the Affordable Care Act (well, other than human decency… but hey! we’re talking budget, not morality). We could easily have prioritized K-12 by $75 million more while increasing Medicaid, public protection, and social services not quite as much:
|Budget Area||FY1996||FY2016||Wishful 2016||Actual Increase||Wishful Increase|
|K-12 State Aid||$165,964,789||$413,815,266||$488,815,266||149.34%||194.53%|
|Rest of State Govt||$93,127,409||$101,471,274||$101,471,274||8.96%||8.96%|
$75 million in adjusted budget priorities, spread out over twenty years, would have produced the revenue necessary to support $8,000 more in teacher pay while still supporting above-average growth in Medicaid spending and growth in social services and public protection even with the overall growth in state spending.
None of this historical perspective on budget choices argues that we shouldn’t make the hard choices necessary now to pay our teachers regionally competitive wages. If anything, this historical perspective makes the case for action now all the more compelling. Failure to prioritize K-12 education in the past has dug us into a big teacher shortage hole. Failure to reprioritize K-12 education now will only dig that hole deeper.