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How Budget Cuts Impact Schools

Future educational leaders must understand how budget decisions impact teachers and students.

In the past few years, protests across the U.S. have brought the issue of school budgets into the national conversation. Education professionals who reached their breaking point made their voices heard with strikes. Although the economy remains in better shape than during the 2008 financial crisis, schools have yet to recover their pre-recession budgets.1

If you earn a master’s in education, you may find yourself in the middle of these conversations about school budgets. It’s important for those pursuing a master’s in education to understand how budget decisions affect individual students, teachers, and the school as a whole.


Worse Student Outcomes

If you’re considering a master’s degree in education, the chances are that you feel passionately about helping students succeed. While excellent teaching strategies, dedicated teachers, and strong curricula help, adequate funding plays a significant role in student success.

The Learning Policy Institute reports a positive correlation between school funding and student outcomes.2 Bigger budgets particularly impact low-income students because their parents have fewer resources to lean on outside of the school.

Another study found the reverse to be true as well: spending cuts mean lower achievement for students.3 In fact, cutting a school’s budget by just 10% has the same effect on test scores as replacing a school full of average teachers with all teachers in the bottom 10% of candidates.3

Of course, you don’t need to have a teaching degree to know that test scores are not the only important student outcomes. Students who come from well-funded schools earn an average of 7% more in pay as adults. They also enjoy higher high school graduation rates than their peers who come from schools that experienced budget cuts.4

Fewer Resources

One of the reasons that students from ill-funded schools don’t perform as well as they could is that they simply do not have the resources they need. For example, budget cuts often mean that schools do not buy updated textbooks. This can mean that history texts do not include recent presidents, science books do not include some of the recently discovered periodic elements, and geography texts do not reflect some countries’ current borders or names.

Budget cuts also slash access to updated educational technology, art supplies, extracurricular activities, and even transportation. Half of the school districts in Colorado cut their school weeks to four days in order to slash transportation costs.5 While educators often employ creative teaching strategies to work around some of these obstacles, they cannot replace a solid foundation of adequate resources.

Larger Classrooms

When states and municipalities cut their per-pupil funding rates, they often lower the number of educators they hire in the school. The natural result of this strategy is that the teachers lead larger classes.

The Center for Public Education reports that classes with 18 or fewer students produce the best student outcomes.6 However, teachers in schools with low funding may lead classes of up to 48 students.5 Even with the best teaching strategies, it’s nearly impossible for these educators to give each student the attention they need in such settings.

You Can Make a Difference

With an online master’s in education, you can position yourself to make important decisions for the schools you serve. Walden University proudly educates tomorrow’s leaders in education. In fact, for a working professional balancing career and family, an online master’s in education from Walden offers a flexible, convenient path to the degree you seek.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education program with a variety of specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,