California drops to 49th in school spending in annual Ed Week report

California tumbled two more spots, to 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending, in Education Week’s latest annual Quality Counts report, released last week. The ranking, which includes Washington, D.C., and the 50 states, covers spending in 2010 and thus doesn’t include the impact of higher taxes that voters approved in passing Proposition 30 in November.

California remains near the bottom nationwide in per-student spending. Source: Quality Counts 2013 (click to enlarge).

California remains near the bottom nationwide in per-student spending. Source: Quality Counts 2013. (Click to enlarge)

California’s per-student spending of $8,482 was $3,342 – 28 percent – below the national average of $11,824. Only Nevada ($8,419) and Utah ($7,042) spent less. Another Western state, Wyoming – $18,814 per student – led the nation in spending. The gap between California and the nation grew $344 per student in 2010, as California’s per-student spending dropped $185 from the year before as a result of a massive state budget deficit, while spending nationally grew $159. Last year, California ranked 47th out of 51; two years ago, before the impact of the recession, it was 43rd.

Education Week’s often-cited annual ranking factors in regional costs of living. (There are also significant regional cost disparities within California.) By comparison, according to the most recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, covering 2009-10, California spent $9,375 per student, ranking 35th in the nation and only $1,240 below the national average of $10,615.

California also ranked low – tied for fifth-worst – in another Education Week measure, the percentage of state and local taxable resources spent on K-12 education. California, along with Oregon, Louisiana and Tennessee, spent 2.9 percent, compared with 4.4 percent nationally. Vermont was at the top, spending 5.8 of resources on education; Delaware (2.4 percent) was at the bottom.

The state Department of Finance is projecting in Gov. Brown’s proposed state budget that per-student spending will increase a hefty $2,700 through 2016-17, compared with 2011-12, but that increase would still be shy of the current national average. Other states also will probably raise their spending as the recession loosens its grip.

California ranked 36th overall in Education Week’s report. In addition to school finance, the report considers factors like student achievement, regulations for teachers and measures of equity. Each factor is assigned a number score and then averaged into a letter grade. California received a 75.5, or a C, which, while not stellar, is better than the F the state was given by Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst earlier this week.

Read the entire Education Week report here.

Filed under: School Finance


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31 Responses to “California drops to 49th in school spending in annual Ed Week report”

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  1. Tim Baerg on May 11, 2015 at 8:29 pm05/11/2015 8:29 pm

    • 000

    As a retired CA public school teacher (working now as a substitute teacher for only $95 per day), it’s simply amazing that there are so many dedicated to influencing the future leaders & productive citizens of CA.

  2. Mike D on Nov 2, 2014 at 6:32 pm11/2/2014 6:32 pm

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    We talk about how much is spent in the classroom which is the net amount after the Supervisor network of employees, Calsters benefits, administration group within each school and the teachers association pay/benefits are deducted. What is the gross amount of money given to teach California students vs the actual amount that reaches the classroom? That is the real concern. We in California have been rated in the high forties or in the last 15% of the country for many years and lack of funding is always blamed. The education failure has nothing to due with more money needed from taxpayers.

  3. Steve on Aug 6, 2014 at 8:27 am08/6/2014 8:27 am

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    When you talk about class size why has nobody brought up all the illegals that are in our class rooms???


    • FloydThursby1941 on Nov 3, 2014 at 11:19 am11/3/2014 11:19 am

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      Steve, what would be the benefit of talking about illegals? If the kids are here, they’re going to be American, and we have to get them well educated or they will be a net negative on our society (prison, welfare, receiving more benefits than paying taxes, homeless). If we can improve education and get them studying and get them services and tutoring, there is no reason they can’t do as well as Asian immigrants, whose performance is the envy of native born whites. The native born are not top students, in fact illegal Asian immigrants outperform whites and make our society better. You focus on Latinos but our education system has failed them. They have parents without much education and don’t emphasize education, so we need to spend enough to change that from a government perspective.

      We don’t talk about it because even if you believe in mass deportations, it isn’t going to happen. 187 tried to refuse to educate them to spend more on the other kids. It would have been disastrous, you’d have millions of children in the U.S. without even minimal skills. They have a people like this in Europe and it isn’t Europe’s fault, the Gypsies. For the most part they refuse to go to school and don’t try hard at all. They are totally withdrawn and opted out of the system. They survive on public assistance and crime, and a little fortune card reading. Almost none have standard jobs.

      If we followed 187 and said no kids of illegals could go to school some might go back, but many will be truly desperate and turn to crime. And with absolutely zero education and parents who are not educated, what would else would you possibly expect? If we took this massive population and made them like the gypsies of Europe, many Americans will be hurt and it will be terrible. Your solution also doesn’t have the votes, as most are opposed to 187 now, so talking about it is pointless.

      Why not talk about how to get these kids highly educated so they can have great jobs?

  4. Mal on Jan 13, 2014 at 8:44 am01/13/2014 8:44 am

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    We spend a great deal of our state funds on our crumbling infrastructure. Wyoming, a largely rural state, doesn’t have the same transportation, electricity, water, sewage, prison, social welfare, etc. demands that largely urban states (with factory farms, which we subsidize heavily) like California do.

    That is also what separates us from Texas, whom we are often erroneously compared to, because our ethnic demographics are similar. However, our economies and geography vastly differ, making meaningful comparisons impossible.

  5. Bernard on Dec 14, 2013 at 7:04 am12/14/2013 7:04 am

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    It’s not about teacher salary. It’s about class size and resources that affect student achievement. That’s where the money is not spent; on reduction of class sizes and resources for students struggling to meet state common core standards

  6. john mockler on Jan 15, 2013 at 11:39 am01/15/2013 11:39 am

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    John Are they using data from 2009-10 or 2010-11? It makes a difference since 2010-11 and 2011-12 were downer years John


    • John Fensterwald on Jan 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm01/15/2013 5:58 pm

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      John, here’s the answer: 2009-10.
      Adjusted Per-Pupil Expenditures: Average statewide per-student spending, adjusted for variations in regional costs using the NCES Comparable Wage Index 2005. EPE Research Center analysis using: National Center for Education Statistics, Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2009-2010 (Fiscal Year 2010), Nov. 2012.

  7. Jeff Camp on Jan 14, 2013 at 2:57 pm01/14/2013 2:57 pm

    • 000

    The education sector should be up in arms about this data.
    Not just about what it means, but about what it IS.

    For one thing, these figures are about as fresh as the Nilla Wafers my cousin left my pantry. Can you imagine if economic or business analysis had to operate on numbers three or four years out of date? Computers and the internet seem to have had no effect whatsoever on the expectations about data quality or availability.

    For another, the numbers seem always to be disseminated in reports that don’t connect from year to year, category to category or state to state. In a sort of group wish, we treat NCES as the book of record for national education data, but it is tardy, fussy, and fraught. Organizations from NEA to EPE feel compelled to duplicate the work. There seems to be little accountability for really making sense of it. Changes in definitions regularly confound analysis, and rarely seem to trigger official restatements of past figures.

    This problem has been fixed in the private sector, where businesses can report in near real-time about results. Businesses create quality data systems for reporting and revision of data. They establish standards, expectations and incentives for timely and accurate reporting. States should receive similar incentives for timely and accurate data delivery. This is very fixable.

    P.S. Fans of the Princess Bride may remember the ROUS (Rodents Of Unusual Size) — California should be compared to the OTHER ROUS (Rest Of United States).

  8. Rob Manwaring on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm01/14/2013 1:27 pm

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    The actual gap between CA and the rest of the nation is even larger than the $3,342 per pupil sited here. That comparison is to the national average. And, California is both large and low spending, so it is weighing down the national average. So, if you compared CA to the average of all the other states, the gap would likely be a couple hundred dollars more.

    What is clear is that this funding gap is largely caused by the state’s preferences and not it’s ability to appropriately fund education. Currently, other state’s invest 3.7% of their state GDP on education (John note that the text of the article is wrong, not 4.4%), while CA only invests 2.9%, one of the lowest rates in the county. This difference does not sound like a lot, but CA is a big state. That 0.8% of GDP would translate into around $15 billion. Now CA is a young state (more students per taxpayer), so it should likely be investing a little more of its GDP on K-12 education than other states. An additional $15 billion would go a long way to begin to restore the quality of our schools.
    Prop 30 took an important first step to begin to reinvest in schools. CA is relatively high tax state, that has larger government than other states. It is time to start to look at the investments that CA is making that are not in schools, and questioning how that spending aligns with taxpayers priorities which continually state that K-12 education is their highest priority.


    • el on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:39 pm01/14/2013 1:39 pm

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      The money isn’t going to a surplus of state employees; California has 108 employees per 10,000 residents compared to the national average of 140. Most measures put California in the middle in state tax burden.

      Thanks for your analysis: your point about how California drags down the national average is very well taken.

      Those percentages are for K-12; I was wondering how it all compares when you add state universities into the mix.

  9. el on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm01/14/2013 1:06 pm

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    John, why even bother mentioning Michelle Rhee’s ranking of the state in the same breath as the Ed Week report? The Rhee report is just a press release, not an actual serious study of achievement or outcomes.

  10. Hannah Katz on Jan 14, 2013 at 11:46 am01/14/2013 11:46 am

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    But top paying Wyoming charges no state income tax to its citizens. And in California they tax our brains out. Where is all that money going, if not into the classroom?


    • el on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm01/14/2013 1:11 pm

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      Wyoming gets a big hunk of money from its oil and gas extraction taxes, taxes that California has been oddly unable to levy. It also is a net welfare state, meaning that the Federal government sends more money to it than it receives in taxes. (California, by contrast, is a net donor state to the federal treasury.)

  11. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman on Jan 14, 2013 at 11:25 am01/14/2013 11:25 am

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    The historic California trade-off for more than 40 years has been (relatively) high teacher pay in exchange for huge class sizes.

    It’s wrong that teachers’ salaries are as low as they are. But it’s criminal to tolerate 30+ students in a room and pretend they will learn math and language arts (especially if they are poor and not native speakers of the English language.)

    The Governor got his tax increase and I’m betting some of it will go to improve teacher pay, since California Teachers Association backed his proposal. But I will be surprised if one dime goes toward ensuring small classes to optimize the education of California children.


    • el on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm01/14/2013 1:34 pm

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      I think if you use this comparison:

      “California also ranked low – tied for fifth-worst – in another Education Week measure, the percentage of state and local taxable resources spent on K-12 education. California, along with Oregon, Louisiana and Tennessee, spent 2.9 percent, compared with 4.4 percent nationally. Vermont was at the top, spending 5.8 of resources on education; Delaware (2.4 percent) was at the bottom.”

      you see that we are straight up not spending enough of our resources on education regardless of how you choose to allocate the money.

      Teachers have to be able to pay their rent. Just because California wants a service at below market rates does not obligate the labor force to provide it.

    • Deedee on Jan 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm01/14/2013 4:13 pm

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      Prop 30 money will be used to fund the teacher pensions and to help bail California out of its hole because of careless spending and bureaucracy…It’s sad, but the classrooms will probably not see much, if any, of the money. Unions rule the state.

      • Hope Salzer on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:14 am03/26/2014 11:14 am

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        Where’s the facts, ma’am?

      • Tom on Aug 17, 2014 at 2:23 pm08/17/2014 2:23 pm

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        In my district, prop 30’s passage added 11 days back to the school calendar in 2013, and is helping to bring us back down to a 28:1 student:teacher ratio (next year) from a peak ratio of 31:1 (2009-2013). I think that counts as the money being spent in the class room.
        And let’s be very clear – both of those changes were things that happened because our local teachers union fought for them. The district wanted to keep the higher student to teacher ratio and the shorter school year, but we stood firm for the benefit of both our students and ourselves. If we had been stronger, we would have gotten the 28:1 ratio sooner, but we don’t get a lot of public support these days. When you bash teacher unions, you are fighting _against_ smaller classes, because right now we are the only group doing something to keep them from exploding.

  12. CapitolReader on Jan 14, 2013 at 11:13 am01/14/2013 11:13 am

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    For the first time last year California spent more on welfare than it does on education. We’re in the top five for welfare spending as a percentage of total expenditures but near the bottom in education spending.

    Taxes or not, education is not the priority for this government.



    • Hope Salzer on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:12 am03/26/2014 11:12 am

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      Thanks for this insight, adds dimension to the perspective. Yes, there’s an indirect relation bet/ these factors: spend less on public education, spend more on welfare, unemployment, social services and prisons. It doesn’t take a genius to see the connection.

  13. Kate on Jan 14, 2013 at 9:11 am01/14/2013 9:11 am

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    Well, Ann, all I know is my babysitter has to work for me after school because she cannot support herself and pay her $1000 rent (low for my area) because she cannot live on the measly $35,000 she earns as a new teacher. If we mirrored the approach of countries with successful education systems, we would pay teachers as much as doctors, and the top 10% of graduates would be those chosen to teach. As long as we continue to pick on teachers, we will lose. Have you ever spent 7 + hours in a classroom of 30+ and then had to go home and lesson plan, grade, etc for 5 hours? It’s a tough job.


    • Deedee on Jan 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm01/14/2013 4:08 pm

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      Annually, our district discloses our school’s teacher’s salaries. The average salary in our tiny, 130 student, California, K-8 school is $70,000.

      • el on Jan 15, 2013 at 7:56 am01/15/2013 7:56 am

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        Salaries vary dramatically district to district.

        $70k is a fair wage for an experienced professional with post-graduate schooling in most locations in California. That is close to the average teacher wage, which means that some make more and some make less.

        This link lets you see teacher and superintendent salaries across the state:

        • el on Jan 15, 2013 at 7:59 am01/15/2013 7:59 am

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          If you dig in at the link, you can see not only average salaries, but minimum and maximum possible salaries in the district.

    • Jim on Jan 30, 2014 at 9:46 pm01/30/2014 9:46 pm

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      There are 49 others States where she can teach.

      • Hope Salzer on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:06 am03/26/2014 11:06 am

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        Oh, great solution, Jim! I see your idea! Pay teachers poorly (given cost of living), raise their classroom loads to the highest in the nation (CA has the WORST student: teacher ratio in the country), and then invite them to move… And so what you’re left with is large classrooms with no adult in them, i.e. prisons. Last time I checked, it’s a HECK of a lot more expensive to the public to pay for prisoners than students– even with a well-paid teacher.

        Next idea?

  14. Ann on Jan 14, 2013 at 8:13 am01/14/2013 8:13 am

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    oh and by the way we should be clear California teachers are the second or third highest paid in the country without adding in the “factors”!

  15. Ann on Jan 14, 2013 at 8:12 am01/14/2013 8:12 am

    • 000

    “Education Week’s often-cited annual ranking factors in regional costs of living. (There are also significant regional cost disparities within California.) By comparison, according to the most recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau, covering 2009-10, California spent $9,375 per student, ranking 35th in the nation and only $1,240 below the national average of $10,615.” In other words any adult teacher in California has made the choice as all the other adult professionals to live here instead of Wyoming where the cost of living (I.e. housing) is much cheaper. Ironically much of what drives costs of housing up in California are politically driven policies that increase fees and limit construction.


    • Hope Salzer on Mar 26, 2014 at 11:07 am03/26/2014 11:07 am

      • 000

      Ann, please educate us so we can advocate– what are these policies?

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