Tax Cuts Part II: What State Tax Cuts Mean for Public Higher Education

Across many states in the past decade, especially after the 2008 Great Recession, followed by the Tea Party red-wave 2010 election, politicians in many states have assumed they could cut taxes—thereby curtailing the revenue stream flowing to the state—without its affecting what is the largest financial outlay in any state—the education budget.

Last spring, a wave of walkouts by schoolteachers, in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky and several other states, drew the nation’s attention to the catastrophic consequences of slashing taxes and cutting into state education budgets.  But now in mid-September, we find ourselves barraged by pre-election personal attack ads on television and mired in the scandal-ridden sensationalism of the Trump White House. Two posts on this blog—yesterday and today—review two of the consequences for education of the fiscal crisis in state budgets that schoolteachers brought to our attention last spring.

If tax cutting across many states has dangerously cut public investment in K-12 education, the American Federation of Teachers reports, “State higher education systems have fared even worse. Forty-one states were spending less on higher education in 2017 than they were in 2008, in real terms.  While state support has declined, the overall average cost of attending college has risen. Tuition costs for two-year colleges are up by an average of 36 percent, and for (public) four-year colleges, they are up by an average 40 percent, even after adjusting for inflation.”

For Inside Higher Ed, Rick Seltzer adds: “The number of states leaning heavily on tuition to pay for instruction at public colleges and universities grew last year, surpassing a significant symbolic milestone.  A total of 28 states used tuition to generate more than 50 percent of their total educational revenue in the 2017 fiscal year…. It was the first time more than half of states were recorded relying more on tuition dollars than on government appropriations.”  And reliance on tuition became more widespread despite that, “state and local appropriations rose 2.1 percent between 2016 and 2017 to total $94.5 billion.”

What is the long-term trend in state funding for higher education? Seltzer continues: “After adjusting for inflation, state appropriations per full-time equivalent student are about 10 percent below their levels of a decade ago and down 8 percent from 25 years ago.  Net tuition per full-time equivalent is up 36 percent over a decade and up 96 percent over 25 years.”

In a stunning policy analysis published in August, Senior Policy Analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy, Peter Ruark explains the complicated story of how tax cutting in Michigan has decimated the state’s general fund, with cascading consequences.  In 2010, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s home state began borrowing from the K-12 School Aid Fund—stealing millions from K-12 public education—to pay for the state’s colleges and universities.  It was to have been a one time loan—to be paid back into the School Aid Fund, but instead the policy has been repeated year after year since 2010 with no attempt to pay back the state’s K-12 education School Aid Fund.

Ruark explains: “For 2010, in order to balance a state budget that had been beaten down over the past decade by tax cuts and the Great Recession, Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature used a supplemental bill to appropriate $208.4 million in School Aid Fund dollars to community colleges. The one-time appropriation included language stating that ‘funds appropriated to community colleges from School Aid Fund will be considered a loan’ that ‘will be repaid from General Fund to School Aid Fund over the period of FY 2011-12 to FY 2015-16.’  The Legislature never paid the funds back.”

Ruark continues: “In Budget Year 2012, Governor Rick Snyder’s first budget drew from the School Aid Fund to replace General Fund dollars going to universities and community colleges, with no language stating it needed to be repaid.  In its final form, the nearly $400 million taken from K-12 was accompanied by a $470-per-pupil cut in the K-12 foundation allowance, the only year since Proposal A (the 1955 law establishing the School Aid Fund) in which the foundation allowance was statutorily cut. The cut was accompanied by a very large tax cut for businesses that cost $1.6 billion, with only part of that amount made up by increased taxes on individuals. The Legislature later passed a supplemental budget that took an additional $63.7 million from the School Aid Fund to pay for community college operations, for a total of $459.6 million in School Aid Fund dollars shifted from K-12 to postsecondary institutions in 2012.  The shift has been the norm during the past eight years as every budget introduced by the Snyder administration and passed by the Legislature has shifted at least $350 million—and often more—from K-12 public schools to universities and community colleges.”

The AFT’s national report depicts graphically that only 9 states are spending more per-pupil to support colleges and universities than they were before the Great Recession. Most states where teachers walked out last spring to protest a catastrophic K-12 school funding crisis are spending far less on a per-pupil basis for students in colleges and universities than they were in 2008—Arizona, $1, 051 per-pupil less—North Carolina, $866 less—Oklahoma $437 less—and Kentucky $400 less.

In his report for Inside Higher Ed, Rick Seltzer concludes that by 2017: “Net tuition revenue per-student (had) increased in 33 states… Michigan collected the highest net tuition revenue per full time-equivalent student, $15,000.”

Teachers walking out last spring were trying to teach us all something about the kind of society we have been becoming.  It is a simple lesson really: If citizens and corporations don’t pay taxes for the services we all depend on, not only will teachers struggle with insufficient salaries, but we’ll all struggle to have the kind if public services most of us and our children need and have in the past taken for granted.

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2 thoughts on “Tax Cuts Part II: What State Tax Cuts Mean for Public Higher Education

  1. Reblogged this on Mister Journalism: "Reading, Sharing, Discussing, Learning" and commented:
    There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason education sucks, and it’s the same reason it will never ever ever be fixed. It’s never going to get any better. Don’t look for it. Be happy with what you’ve got… because the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now… the real owners. The big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls. They got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying. Lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests…
    George Carlin (2005) Life Is Worth Losing.

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