SIMBA Information’s recently released PreK-12 Policy and Budget Outlook 2023-2024 report
examines educational policy and funding trends at the federal, state, and local level. On the funding side, both federal appropriations and state budgets for PreK-12 education remained strong during fiscal 2023 – the 2022-2023 school year. In many cases, this was primarily attributable to the infusion of stimulus funding to address ongoing learning loss (spurred by the pandemic lockdowns that began in 2020) alongside robust local and state budgets. The National Association of School Budget Officers’ (NASBO) December 2022 Fiscal Survey of States saw 33 report revenues in fiscal 2023 that came in above projections and seven that were on target. Only one reported lower-than-forecast revenues
What this Report Covers
In addition to outlining totals and allocations of federal and state monies towards education priorities, the report also examines curriculum restrictions and book bans; growth in social issues like mental health, inclusivity vs. fairness, and gun violence in schools; teacher dissatisfaction; classroom connectivity; policy updates on various subject matter including computer science; cybersecurity and privacy; school choice bills on the rise; and approval of Fiscal 2024 budgets.
VIDEO Key Findings
Key findings examined and analyzed in this report include Federal appropriations for education in fiscal 2023 (i.e., the 2022-2023 school year) grew across the board with most key programs seeing increases. Programs showing the biggest increases in funding included safe schools and citizenship education, which was up 26.59%; supplemental education grants, up 24.45%; Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian education, up 18.44% and 18.00%, respectively; education for homeless children and youths, up 13.16%; Innovation and Improvement, up 11.74%; and Rural Education, up 10.26%.
Other key findings include results from a 2022 survey by the American Federation of Teachers which found that more than 75% of the 2,400 teachers surveyed are dissatisfied with their work conditions, the highest level in the eight years the survey has been conducted. A third of the teachers surveyed said that conditions had worsened in the past five years. Complaints on working conditions included overwork, flat wages, fear of school shootings, and curriculum restrictions being put into place. Schools are addressing these issues through raises, training programs, and other measures, but there is a long way to go.
Key Trends Discussed
Several significant trends and developments are explored and analyzed in the report. Among them are states looking at possibly changing their funding formulas; curriculum restrictions and book bans have been enacted across 18 states though other states have seen a rise in Black and Native American course teachings; school choice bills on the rise with at least 32 states offering some sort of tax-funded school choice program; social issues impacting schools-including increased gun violence, mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness; and connectivity is up across the board but so are cybersecurity breaches.
The Importance of Policy and Budget
Understanding K-12 policy and budget trends helps providers of instructional material, tools, and services better assess market opportunities. As this report indicates, K-12 education budgets at both the federal and state (in most cases) levels are robust enough to create opportunities for vendors, especially in priority subject areas. But all eyes are on September 2024, when the last of the federal stimulus funding must be spent. The uncertainty about that potential funding cliff is compounded by concerns about the greater US economy in the coming years, and districts are considering how and where to secure the money they need to continue important initiatives.
On the policy side, political divisions are creating a K-12 landscape rife with uncertainty and change. Changeovers in the power structure at the federal level often precipitate rapid about-faces in policy, while divided state politics are essentially creating two different educational systems. This makes it difficult for vendors to plan, adds uncertainty about which materials will be acceptable for adoption or approval at the state level, and requires consideration about how to cost-effectively create materials that meet all state standards while addressing the stark differences in some subject areas.
State Laws Complicate Content Decisions
Consider social-emotional learning content as an example. Although there is almost universal recognition among educators and parents regarding the benefits of integrating social-emotional learning – both for student health and wellness and for academic success – SEL has become a hot button political issue in some states; in certain cases, learning materials are being rejected for containing SEL content.
Similarly, the blowback in some states against teaching “critical race theory” – despite CRT being a law school course that most educators agree is not taught in K-12 schools – has expanded to include the broader topics of race, diversity, and inclusion. In turn, that impacts what can be taught in US history, social studies, and other subjects.
Conversely, other states are moving in the opposite direction and adding more instruction that acknowledges race, gender, and equality issues.
While divisive politics dominate headlines and school board meetings, there is a consensus on other K-12 priorities, with states across the country setting policy to support them. These include computer science, reading (particularly phonics-based science of reading methods), career and technical education, and preK and early learning. These sorts of topics are almost universally embraced by policy makers and administrators, as are emerging ones like media literacy, which has bipartisan support and is expected to be required in more and more states and districts across the country.