Federal Funding: A Final Overview

Before engaging in some policy suggestions, it is worth doing a broad review of the federal funding picture of education to provide an overview of the federal portion's size relative to state and local contributions. What appears to be a substantial expansion of the federal role in education occurred during the 50 years following 1965. This period was marked by a generally expansive economy, bipartisan cooperation, the civil rights movement, the augmented role of the United States in a turbulent world, the growing importance of education in the economy, the skills of education reformers in the Congress and the executive agencies, and the strong roles of advocacy groups on education, both traditional and new. But how big an expansion was it?

Table 3.5 displays the changing share of school districts' expenses paid by local, state, and federal government. From these data we can see a prevailing increase in the federal share during this period of strong increase overall in the context of the long-term trends from 1920 to 2012. The downturn in the 1980s was due to policy preferences of the Reagan administration, though resisted with some success by supporters of education in the Congress. The peak, from 2010 to 2012, was due to emergency funds to the Department of Education from Congress in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. We can assume that those percentages will decrease when the official statistics are posted for 2013 and following.

In the big expansion in the 1960s and 1970s, the federal share of local dollar expenditures grew from 4.4 to 9.8 %, about double. But is that a lot of money? It's worth pointing out that federal dollars are the kind that local administrators want because they are almost all devoted to new kinds of learning, new clients, and

Table 3.5 Federal, state, and local share: public elementary and secondary school budgets

Year

Federal

State

Local

1920

0.3

16.5

83.2

1930

0.4

16.9

82.7

1940

1.8

30.3

68.0

1945

1.4

34.7

63.9

1950

2.9

39.8

57.3

1955

4.6

39.5

55.9

1960

4.4

39.1

56.5

1965

7.9

39.1

53.0

1970

8.0

39.9

52.1

1975

9.0

42.0

49.0

1980

9.8

46.8

43.4

1985

6.6

48.9

44.4

1990

6.1

47.3

46.8

1995

6.8

46.8

46.4

2000

7.3

49.7

43.0

2005

8.3

n.a.

n.a.

2008

8.0

48.0

44.0

2009

9.5

46.7

43.8

2010

13.0

43.0

44.0

2012

12.3

n.a.

n.a.

improvement of instruction; in contrast, much of the remaining approximately 90 % is largely needed for inflexible costs such as building and maintenance, salaries, student transportation, supplies, and similar necessities. So federal money has two rather large impacts: It provides program money and it allows the federal government to influence the agenda of the schools and require some accountability.

Although it is well to remember that the lion's share of the cost of public education falls to the state and local resources, opposition to the growing federal role is not about money as much as it is against new programs that require changes, rules, and accountability that infringe on local control. Whatever the objective of the federal initiatives—desegregation, better science classes, teacher evaluations, improved education of disadvantaged children, or adopting the Common Core—objections to federal assertions can also be justified on philosophical bases that are deeply ingrained in our history and our political preferences about how democracy best works in a very large country.

 
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