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: Featured, Reporting & Analysis, School Finance · Tags:

Comment Policy

EdSource encourages a robust debate on education issues and welcomes comments from our readers. The level of thoughtfulness of our community of readers is rare among online news sites. To preserve a civil dialogue, writers should avoid personal, gratuitous attacks and invective. Comments should be relevant to the subject of the article responded to. EdSource retains the right not to publish inappropriate and non-germaine comments.


EdSource encourages commenters to use their real names. Commenters who do decide to use a pseudonym should use it consistently.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. john mockler says:

    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

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      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.

  2. Jeff Camp says:

    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).

  3. Rob Manwaring says:

    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.

    1. el says:

      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.

      http://www.ccsce.com/PDF/Numbers-Sept-2012-Where-Does-California-Rank-2011.pdf

      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.

  4. el says:

    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.

  5. Hannah Katz says:

    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?

    1. el says:

      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.)

  6. 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.

    1. el says:

      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.

    2. Deedee says:

      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.

      1. Hope Salzer says:

        Where’s the facts, ma’am?

  7. CapitolReader says:

    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.

    Source: http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/governments/cb12-231.html

    1. Hope Salzer says:

      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.

  8. Kate says:

    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.

    1. Deedee says:

      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.

      1. el says:

        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:
        http://www.sacbee.com/2011/01/26/995141/see-how-well-your-school-district.html

        1. el says:

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

    2. Jim says:

      There are 49 others States where she can teach.

      1. Hope Salzer says:

        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?

  9. Ann says:

    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”!

  10. Ann says:

    “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.

    1. Hope Salzer says:

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