Policy & Finance > School Finance

Latest – but outdated – Ed Week survey ranks California 50th in per pupil spending

Quick Hit LogoThe ghost of spending past crossed the hope of spending future with the publication of Education Week’s Quality Counts 2014 and the release of Gov. Brown’s proposed state budget on the same day last week.

In Ed Week’s annual comprehensive comparison of states on many measures, California stumbled to the bottom in per student spending in 2010-11, the most recent data. It was 50th out of the states and Washington, D.C., with only Utah behind it.

But 2010-11 was the worst year for California schools following the Great Recession. It was also the year before voters passed Proposition 30, the November 2012 measure that temporarily raised state taxes about $6 billion per year, with most of that going to K-12 schools and community colleges.

School district finances have been looking up since. Last week, Brown proposed sharply boosting per pupil spending by 8.6 percent – $725 per student – for 2014-15.

EdWeek’s and Brown’s per pupil spending figures don’t make for an apple-to-apple comparison, since EdWeek factors in cost of living, based on 2005 data of states’ wages and salaries (also outdated but the latest federal data that EdWeek can get, it says). California is a relatively high-cost state, lowering its state ranking. That’s also why advocates for higher spending in California prefer to cite the Quality Counts surveys, which have ranked California from 45th to now 50th over the past decade. By comparison, the National Education Association, using unadjusted data, ranked California 43rd in spending in 2010-11 but in the 30s in other years.

According to Quality Counts, average per pupil spending in California was $8,341 in 2010-11 – $3,523 below the average spending nationwide of $11,864.

According to the NEA, per pupil spending in California (page 85) was $8,689 in 2010-11 – $2,137 below the national average of $10,826. It then jumped to 34th in 2011-12, spending $9,541 per student or $1,435 below the national average of $10,976, then falling to 38th in 2012-13.

Among California districts, however, per pupil spending has varied substantially. Funding in some  “basic aid” districts – the roughly 10 percent of districts with enough property wealth to finance schools outside of state funding – has exceeded the average by $3,000 or more per student. And, under the old system of funding “categorical grants,” some districts received hundreds of dollars extra in funding per student. Under the new Local Control Funding Formula, districts with large percentages of low-income students and English learners will receive more than the average state funding.

Quality Counts reported that in 2010-11, California was among the bottom states in another measure: the capacity to spend on education, which it defines as local and state revenues spent as a percentage of taxable resources. California spent 3.1 percent, tied with Oklahoma for 37th lowest.

Brown’s proposed 8.5 percent per pupil increase applies to funding through Proposition 98, the primary formula for determining money for schools, but doesn’t include some other sources of state and local revenue. But it’s safe to say that the extra money will push California up from the bottom, though 2014-15 spending, if adopted by the Legiislature would still be shy of the national average, by any measure.

Check out EdSource’s state-by-state comparison of education spending for more information.

Filed under: School Finance, State Education 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 Comment

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

 characters available

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

4 Responses to “Latest – but outdated – Ed Week survey ranks California 50th in per pupil spending”

  1. Jeff Camp said

    on January 14, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    State comparison figures always spark a wave of head-scratching because dollars are worth more in low-cost places than in high-cost ones.

    Last year EdSource released “States in Motion” to help put some context around the numbers. (It doesn’t include the latest budget proposal, but it shows 40 years of data by state, and education budgets don’t make nimble changes. One year’s budget won’t change the big picture much.) Visit http://edsource.org/states-in-motion and have a look at View #5. Move the slider from left to right. It shows education expenditures per student, by state, adjusted for inflation — but NOT adjusted for the local cost of providing education. In this “just the facts” view, California stands on the low side, but it’s when you dig deeper that you can see the deep differences between California and other states.

    View #11 shows that teacher salaries are related to economic conditions in each state, and that California is a high-cost, high-wage state. View #6 shows that funding per student also tends to vary with economic conditions, and that California is a persistently low-funding state. The punch line is that money is only good for what it can buy, and California’s schools persistently provide students with less of the stuff-that-money-buys in schools — especially adult attention.

    At present, my preferred way of thinking about this is with View #16, which shows the *cumulative* teacher-student ratio (the inverse of the student-teacher ratio) over the course of a K-12 education. Students in California, Utah and Arizona must share their teachers with far more students than those in other states.

    Replying to Jerry using view #16: Over 13 years, Mississippi’s per-student spending funds 0.84 teacher-years per student. California funds 0.62. Mississippi doesn’t spend more per student, but it GETS more teacher-time per student for what it spends — about a third more. Mississippi also puts a bit more relative effort into funding education than California does. Go to view #7 and (using the tabs at the top) switch to a column chart view. Mississippi consistently spends more of its state economy on K-12 education than California does.

  2. Jerry Heverly said

    on January 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    As often happens I feel very ignorant here. Do I understand that these calculations don’t include Basic Aid districts (which would presumably lift CA’s position)? Do I understand that categorical funds don’t count, either? Without really having any good information I always feel skeptical when I read these numbers. I remember years ago reading an analysis that said there were lots of hidden expenditures here in CA that didn’t show up in surveys. My gut tells me this subject is much more complex than one facile statistic. You’re telling me that Mississippi REALLY spends more per capita than CA? Or am I being played here.

  3. navigio said

    on January 13, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Prop 30 may have raised taxes but it didn’t raise school funding. So the fact that it passed would have zero impact on California’s ranking unless other states were not able to avoid the same kind of drops that prop 30 avoided here.
    And thanks for the last paragraph. The reality is we’ve dropped so far that even a ‘significant’ increase in funding won’t get us anywhere near normal.
    Not that anyone cares. They’re just public school kids.

  4. Gary Ravani said

    on January 13, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Boy, when final calculations are in, and the “extra money will push CA up from the bottom,” our state may dodge being 50th of 50 states in K-12 education funding per child. On behalf of educators up and down the state I’d like to express how such news just makes my heart swell with pride.

    (And yes, i’m being facetious.)

Template last modified: