March 11, 2013
Resources matter when it comes to educating California’s 6.2 million K-12 students. Governor Brown’s school finance reform proposal, the “Local Control Funding Formula” (LCFF), focuses attention on that fact and would take the important step of directing dollars to students who need additional support to achieve the state’s academic standards — English learners, students from low-income families, and foster youth. The Governor’s proposal also would boost overall state spending per student, a measure on which California neared the bottom of the nation a couple of years ago, and could raise it to the same level as the rest of the US by the time the LCFF is fully implemented.
According to newly released data from the National Education Association, California school spending lags that in the rest of the nation by $2,500 per student. This means that in order to reach the same level of spending per student as the rest of the US, California would need to spend an additional $15.3 billion in the current (2012-13) budget year alone. The Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget calls for implementing the Local Control Funding Formula by raising the annual school funding level by a similar amount — $15.5 billion — over approximately seven years, plus annual cost-of-living adjustments. Even though it would not bring California’s spending per student up to the level of the rest of the US for several years, the additional funding the Governor proposes would provide a significant boost to state spending per student and is worthy of support.
Would the funding targets in the LCFF ensure that the state is providing the necessary resources to give every California student access to a quality education? Or does the state need to establish more ambitious funding goals to reach funding adequacy? Legislators have raised these questions at recent budget hearings, but broad agreement about what constitutes an adequate funding level to achieve the state’s rigorous performance goals remains elusive. One assemblymember suggested that California should not be satisfied with reaching the same level of spending per student as the rest of the US, but instead should aspire to rank in the top 10 states in the nation. To make it into the top 10, California would need to spend an additional $41.1 billion in 2012-13 — a funding level increase of more than two-thirds — which would require the state to raise significant new revenues. Such high aspirations for California spending per student are laudable and deserve our support. Yet at the same time, concerns that the state is not doing enough to establish sufficient funding levels should not be a reason to oppose a significant increase in state support for schools.
While the Governor’s proposal provides a boost to school funding, the LCFF does raise some concerns, including the need to make sure that additional dollars actually go to support the students for whom they are intended. Stay tuned to California Budget Bites for further analysis of how to strengthen accountability under the LCFF and ensure that restructuring the state’s school finance system improves education for all California students.
— Jonathan Kaplan
November 21, 2011
A recent CBP School Finance Facts found that a decade of disinvestment has left California spending for public schools at or near the bottom when compared to other states. However, a recent Sacramento Bee column claimed that we selectively used data to demonstrate that California schools are “being woefully underfinanced.” As an organization with a deep commitment to accuracy, credibility, and fact-based analysis, we want to explain to our readers why the data we analyze is the best available.
The CBP uses National Education Association (NEA) data to compare California spending per pupil to that in other states because the NEA’s figures are the most current national spending data available and offer what we believe is an up-to-date reflection of California’s education spending. For example, our recent report uses NEA data that reflects 2010-11 school spending. By contrast, the data most recently released from the National Center for Education Statistics and the US Census reflect 2008-09 school spending. Thus, the Census data referenced in the Sacramento Bee column do not reflect changes in school spending since 2008-09. Moreover, despite controversies remarked upon in a previous CBP blog post, the CBP has consistently used NEA data to report California’s per pupil spending, even when it showed a more positive rank for California than did other sources.
The CBP and other organizations use spending data, rather than revenue data, to compare California’s per pupil support for schools to that in other states. This is because revenue data include dollars that are not directly related to the annual cost of educating students, such as capital outlay (i.e., school construction dollars). The Sacramento Bee column claimed that the Census data “pegs California’s per-pupil number at $11,588,” but this figure actually reflects 2008-09 school revenue per pupil. In fact, according to Census data, California spending per pupil in 2008-09 was $9,657, just $185 more than NEA’s per pupil spending figure of $9,472 for that year.
The gap between resources available to California schools and those in the rest of the nation has widened substantially regardless of the data analyzed. According to the Census data referenced in the Sacramento Bee column, the gap between California spending per student and per student spending in the nation grew more than threefold (267.5 percent) between 2001-02 and 2008-09, after adjusting for inflation. The real question we should be focused on is not what data sources to use, but whether the resources available to California schools are adequate to ensure students the opportunities that a quality education affords.
– Jonathan Kaplan
June 30, 2010
Anyone trying to understand today’s headlines can find the story behind the story in a new CBP School Finance Facts released today. Race to the Bottom? California’s Support for Schools Lags the Nation shows that by almost any measure California ranks near or at the bottom with respect to the level of funding for public schools relative to that of other states. For example, even without adjusting for the state’s comparatively higher costs, California spends far less per student than the rest of the US – $2,546 less per student in 2009-10. That means California’s schools would have had to spend an additional $76,400 for each 30-student classroom to reach the per student spending level of the rest of the nation. Because California spends less to support public schools it has more students per classroom than any other state – averaging 21.3 students for each teacher in 2009-10, compared to 13.8 students per teacher for the rest of the US.
While California’s support for public schools has lagged the nation during at least the past four decades, the state’s standing has declined dramatically during the last three years. As a result, an increasing number of California school districts are facing bankruptcy.
Looming school district bankruptcies and a dramatic decline in the state’s education rankings should be seen as a reason to maintain support for California’s schools. Instead, Governor Schwarzenegger’s “cuts only” approach to balancing the budget would slash $1.5 billion more from general purpose funding for K-12 education. A more balanced approach won’t alleviate the need for spending cuts, but would leave California schools in a better position to recover when the state’s economy improves.
– Jonathan Kaplan
May 7, 2010
Claims about California school spending are grabbing headlines again. However, some are making misleading assertions. Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s repeated claim that 40 percent of California school spending “goes to bureaucracy and overhead,” for example, does not square with the facts. While it is unclear what figures Ms. Whitman is using, a common measure for defining K-12 spending reflects schools’ day-to-day operational expenses. According to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, 1 percent of the dollars California spends on the day-to-day operations of its schools goes toward general administration, which is less than half of what the rest of the United States spends. Contrary to Ms. Whitman’s claim that only 60 percent of California’s education spending “reaches the classroom,” California spends two-thirds (66.7 percent) of its dollars on classroom instruction and 28.5 percent on “student services,” which includes home-to-school transportation, keeping classrooms clean and safe, and school principals’ and vice principals’ salaries. While some may argue that principals’ salaries are part of “bureaucracy and overhead,” research documents the fact that school leadership is important to student achievement. Debates about budget priorities are fair game, but they should be rooted in the facts, not myths.
– Jonathan Kaplan