K-12 fiscal relief in the aftermath of COVID-19: Martin Lueken and Robert Enlow
K-12 education historically has been insulated from recessions, but the fallout from COVID-19 will strain state and district budgets and leave lawmakers and other public officials struggling to figure out financial solutions for years to come.
Policymakers will be hard-pressed to find solutions to these challenges, but the answer is not growing the traditional system, which can occur during recessions as families with children enrolled in private schools pull them out for financial reasons. In areas hit particularly hard by the Great Recession over a decade ago, private school enrollment on average declined by 40 percent. The cost of absorbing these students back into the public school system comes with a hefty price tag for taxpayers and strain on schools and teachers themselves as costs increase and class sizes grow.
Fortunately, policymakers can rely on one source of fiscal relief: educational choice. These programs are publicly funded at levels typically way below the cost of traditional public K-12 schools. They generate savings for state and local taxpayers—on average more than $3,000 for each student participating in them. Cumulatively, this represents more than $6 billion in savings since the programs’ inceptions.
Yet, at a time when policymakers should embrace programs that offer relief to state and district budgets, some states face efforts to limit or eliminate educational choice programs via legislative or legal means. In other states, programs are set to sunset soon.
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