Report: Californians make more, but pay less toward education than those in other states

California has made some historic strides in it efforts to boost school funding and provide additional resources to the neediest students, but a new report finds that spending on each student still falls below nearly every other state, in part because Californians pay less in taxes to support schools.

California’s lackluster school funding is nothing new, but the study by the California Budget Project, a nonprofit fiscal and policy analysis organization, found that “California’s financial support for schools lags its capacity.”

“The state has more per capita in personal income than the rest of the United States but spends much less per capita income than the rest of the United States,” said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst for education at the Budget Project.

percentage of low income students by state

In the report, per capita personal income is described as “a measure of the financial resources available to help support schools and other public systems and services.” Most folks use the common definition – taxes.

The Budget Project traces this gap back to Proposition 13. The 1978 ballot initiative imposed limits on property tax increases. Until then, local tax revenues accounted for nearly half of school funding. Since then, districts have had to rely more heavily on the state to meet their education funding needs.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, Californians’ per capita personal income was more than $47,000, more than $3,000 above the national average. Nevertheless, just 3.18 percent of that personal income went to schools in California, compared to more than 4 percent in the rest of the country. The majority of funding – 57 percent – for California schools comes from the state, while only about 32 percent comes from “local sources, primarily local property taxes,” the report said. “In contrast,” the report said, “schools in the rest of the U.S. received roughly an equal proportion of their funds from the state and from local sources – 44.3 percent and 45.7 percent, respectively.”

The average spending by all states on education, excluding California, is $11,755 per student, according to the study. California allocates about $9,280 per student, nearly $2,500 less than the national average. Compared to the highest-spending states, California trails Illinois in per-student spending by $4,080, and New York by $6,700. California also ranks at the bottom – 51st – in student-to-teacher ratio (measured by the total number of students in the state divided by the total number of certificated teachers).

A couple of significant actions by voters and lawmakers in the past year will improve the state’s financial situation and provide more funding for students who it need it the most.

Proposition 30, the ballot initiative approved by voters last November, could bring in as much as $6 billion more a year for public schools through a temporary four-year sales tax increase for everyone and a seven-year income tax hike on the wealthiest Californians. But even that “will not provide California schools with sufficient resources to meet the challenges of educating the state’s students,” according to the report.

Foremost among those challenges is that educating low-income and English-learner students costs more because those students require additional resources, and California schools enroll the largest share of those students than anywhere in the country. More than 30 percent of the nation’s 4.4 million school-age English learners attend California public schools, and a majority of students – 53 percent – are eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program, an indication that they live near or below the poverty level.

The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), approved as part of the state budget starting this fiscal year, fundamentally restructures how the state funds schools “and makes California’s education finance system more transparent,” write the reports’ analysts.

Under LCFF, schools receive a base amount of money of about $7,643, which varies by grade level. On top of that, districts receive a targeted supplemental grant of 20 percent of the base, determined by how many English learners, foster youth and low-income students are in the district. LCFF also provides a concentration grant, amounting to 50 percent of the base grant, to districts whose disadvantaged students make up more than 55 percent of their enrollment.

While LCFF “is an important step toward aligning state dollars with student needs,” according to the Budget Project, reaching the target level determined to provide an adequate education to all students would require some $20 billion more each year.

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Filed under: Elections, High-Needs Students, Local Control Funding Formula, Reforms, School Finance, State Education Policy

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11 Responses to “Report: Californians make more, but pay less toward education than those in other states”

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  1. Anne White on Oct 11, 2013 at 6:55 pm10/11/2013 6:55 pm

    • 000

    J, if you would come to my district and point out the waste, I’d be delighted to root it out.

    I hope everyone considers the first chart in the report as merely informational in relating percentages of students. The configuration, i.e. not using a scale of 0-60, visually suggests that Florida has four times as many FRL students as Illinois. Actually 56/44 is about 1.27 – only a quarter more students in poverty in Florida compared to Illinois. My training and experience in science makes me wary of such charts.


    • J on Oct 25, 2013 at 2:58 pm10/25/2013 2:58 pm

      • 000

      Not sure what district your from but you might want to look into free cell phones for administrators to start. Then you might look into how many administrators are at your schools and the district office. Do we really need 100’s of administrators to educate our young?
      Then move into the textbooks. Do you need new textbooks every year because one line is changed? Waste I tell you.

  2. GC on Oct 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm10/10/2013 6:30 pm

    • 000

    Do the cost figures include all sources of funding local schools and all expenses? Or just funds coming at the state level?


    • Kathy Baron on Oct 11, 2013 at 8:59 am10/11/2013 8:59 am

      • 000

      GC, when you say “cost”, are you referring to the $9280 that California allocates for each student?

  3. J on Oct 10, 2013 at 10:38 am10/10/2013 10:38 am

    • 000

    Let’s look at the waste of money in education, before we rail against how much money we spend per state. There is no correlation between how much we spend and the increase in productivity of our students. Scores have been stagnate for some time.


    • Gary Ravani on Oct 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm10/10/2013 4:50 pm

      • 000

      Just what part of “Californians make more, but pay less for education” did you not understand?

  4. Manuel on Oct 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm10/9/2013 12:54 pm

    • 000

    I wish that Ms. Baron, the author of this article, would stop repeating that very wrong phrase:

    Under LCFF, schools receive a base amount of money of about $7,643, which varies by grade level.

    This might be true seven (or is it eight?) years from now when LCFF is supposed to be at full funding. But that’s not the amount now (hence, the present tense should not be used!). In fact, because the state appears to be inexplicably short of money, the amount each district is getting for 2013-14 is not much different than what they got in 2012-13. In short, there has been not much of an increase from last year to now.

    Anyway, the public keeps reading that sentence and thinks that everything is working out. It isn’t.


    • Kathryn Baron on Oct 11, 2013 at 11:42 am10/11/2013 11:42 am

      • 000

      I spoke with John Fensterwald,my colleague at EdSource Today who has been the main reporter on LCFF. He said that you’re right about the phase-in. It will take an estimated eight years to shift from the current level of funding to full funding under the formula. Districts will receive a piece of the difference each year. For districts with substantial numbers of high-needs students, however, even that piece should make a noticeable difference, an increase in 5-6 percent in per student funding this year.

      • navigio on Oct 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm10/11/2013 12:05 pm

        • 000

        Is the $200 or so per student for common core implementation included in that ‘increase’? If I’m not mistaken, the CDE said on average funding would actually be lower this year than last because that grant is coming off the top of prop 98. That is of course just the average. For higher needs districts, that should be mostly outweighed by even an eighth of LCFF.

  5. Cynthia Eagleton on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:19 am10/9/2013 7:19 am

    • 000

    Should be “the value of human beings”

  6. Cynthia Eagleton on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:16 am10/9/2013 7:16 am

    • 000

    Thank you so much for this article. As the mom of a school-age child, as a teacher, as a California… I need to know this. Troubling. Deeply.

    I also see that yet again there is mention of the number of English Learners and the fact the state needs more money to educate them properly.


    And those children would be greatly helped by a strong Adult Education program for their parents.

    But those programs were devastated the past five years and in many areas of the state, they are non-existent.

    The best predictor of child success is mother’s education level.

    I feel like I repeat the same facts over and over in the face of a wind that shouts, “Work Force Training! Work Force Training!”

    Yes. Work matters.

    And that wind can blow all it wants about it.

    It will never blow away the rock solid truth that humans are a group species that live in families and communities.

    So it is and so it always will be.

    To deny that truth is to have problems.

    And problems we have.

    In places like Riverside, districts are flouting the MOE clause (the Maintenance of Effort clause that says K12 Adult Schools must maintain the same level of funding as in the previous year) in the name of helping their kids.

    Somehow, back pay for teachers makes it in there. Something that troubles me.

    Saying that out loud makes me hunch over, in readiness for accusations that I’m anti-union or anti-teacher. I’m a third-generation teacher and a union member raised in a strongly union household. And I’m a union member in an open shop school where plenty of teachers ride our wages and benefits while insisting they “can’t afford” the dues. Somehow, as a single mom, I manage to pay mine, because I understand that if you want something, you have to pay for it.

    That’s the real truth, isn’t it?

    If you want something, you have to give something to it.

    Money, love, effort – you get what you give.

    That’s a truth I’m trying to impart to my daughter.

    It’s a truth I try to impart to my students.

    It’s a truth I try to impart to my legislators and my governor and the larger community in which I live.

    Of course, the unsettling truth is, there are those who know that truth and don’t care.

    They are happy to take just what they need from folks.

    Because there will always be more folks to take from.

    Is California a place where you can afford to spend less on education? Sure, if you constantly import well-educated people for the jobs that need those folks while exploiting the folks with poor or no education so that they have no choice but to take the jobs offered if they want to survive.

    Oh, and of course, crime. That does seem to be a choice some people choose when they don’t want to work at McDonald’s.


    But I persevere.

    Because seeing the human beings and working toward a structure that is founded on an understanding of that value brings great reward.

    Thanks again for running this article.

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