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Public school spending lags despite economic rebound

Public schools have had little success in recovering pre-recession funding as local property taxes remain low, leaving districts scrambling to make up budget gaps with emergency coffers and state-funded grants.

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Public school budget restrictions have forced many schools to make tough choices. About 190,000 students returned to school this month in Philadelphia, where parents say severe staffing cuts have created an aura of uncertainty around the new academic year, Sept. 9, 2013.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

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At least 34 states are providing less funding per student in the current school year than before the recession hit. Moreover, at least 15 have lower funding than a year ago, according to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which closely tracks state spending.

That creates a serious dent in local school budgets: states provide 44 percent of the country's total education funding.

Districts are struggling to make up for the losses as local property taxes, their primary source of revenue, stay down. Localities collected 2.1 percent less in property tax revenue in the year ending in March than in the previous year, according to the CBPP.

Last month, the Chicago Board of Education, which runs the nation's third largest public school system, had to tap its budget reserves to cover a $1 billion deficit caused by climbing pension payments and salaries and by declining revenues.

Philadelphia's school district is counting on a $45 million state grant to help it cover a $100 million shortfall, which the governor will not release unless teachers make concessions in a new labor pact.

The report comes amid shaky prospects for federal education funding. The U.S. government only provides 5 percent of school money nationwide, but some districts rely heavily on special grant programs that are subject to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

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