The 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comparison, since EdWeek factors in cost of living, based on 2005 data of states’ wages and salaries (also outdated but the latest federal data that EdWeek can get, it says).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.