California school districts need to significantly increase their education spending to ensure that students have adequate resources and support to provide the state’s content standards and meet its academic goals. Based on 2016-17 numbers, funding schools adequately to meet these goals would have required a 38 percent increase in spending, or $25.6 billion. That would mean an average increase of $4,686 per student in that year, although the amount would vary by school district. 

That’s the conclusion of a study conducted by the American Institutes for Research for Getting Down to Facts, a project that was published in 2018 by Stanford University and Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).

For more on how the study was done, go to “What Does It Cost to Educate California’s Students? A Professional Judgment Approach.”

To come up with a definition for adequate funding, the researchers from the American Institutes for Research asked two panels of expert K-12 educators to determine the staffing, programs and other resources students would need to meet the academic and content standards set by the State Board of Education.

Since 2016-17, revenue for K-12 under Proposition 98, the primary source of funding for schools and community colleges, has risen $8.4 billion, about 13 percent. Expenses, including pension and health care costs, have risen, too, so it’s difficult to determine what difference the extra money has made toward achieving funding adequacy, as defined in the cost study. At least one proposed tax increase — on property taxes paid by businesses — is anticipated on the November 2020 ballot. It would produce about an additional $4 billion annually for K-12 schools if it passes.

This interactive graphic, developed by EdSource in collaboration with the American Institutes for Research, is part of an ongoing series of deeper dives into the Getting Down to Facts research.

To look up the predicted adequate cost per student for your district, start below by typing in the name of a school district. See below the chart for notes.

Notes:
1. ​Free and reduced-price meal counts in the table above were provided by the researchers and come from Column S of the 2016-17 CALPADS Unduplicated Pupil Count Source File (K–12). These counts only include students identified as eligible for the federal school lunch program on the first Wednesday in October of the 2016-17 school year. ​​They do not include foster youth or homeless and migrant students who were included in other data used by the researchers to measure student need in each district.
2. Common Administration Districts are not included in this analysis. There are currently five of these districts in California: Arena Union Elementary/Point Arena Joint Union High (Mendocino County), Modesto City Schools (Stanislaus County), Petaluma City Elementary/Joint Union High (Sonoma County), Santa Cruz City Elementary/High (Santa Cruz County), and City Of Santa Rosa Elementary/High (Sonoma County).

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  1. Kay Henderson, PhD 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    The numbers can be misleading. For example our district spends considerable money on students but our district is top-heavy with district office administrators, most of whom do not have a positive impact on students' education. All the district office administrators earn more than the governor of California. To compensate for the lost $31 million, the district has cut custodians and bus drivers which has negatively impacted our students. So we need … Read More

    The numbers can be misleading. For example our district spends considerable money on students but our district is top-heavy with district office administrators, most of whom do not have a positive impact on students’ education. All the district office administrators earn more than the governor of California. To compensate for the lost $31 million, the district has cut custodians and bus drivers which has negatively impacted our students. So we need to consider how much is spent on students but also how the money is spent. We could lose 30 district office administrators and there would be no impact on students. I say that because our current administration has not added teachers and has reduced other staff but has added more that 30 district office admin, thus squandering the resources that we have. If we were fully funded they would probably add another 30+ district office admin.

  2. Susan Perry 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    The formula determining the adequate funding levels for schools overlooks the challenges at small, isolated rural districts such as Big Sur Unified. As a single school-school district providing education to TK-12th grade, the enrollment numbers are irrelevant. What matters is how many teachers are needed to instruct all of the high school courses so that all the required high school courses are offered and the school receives its maximum amount of high school … Read More

    The formula determining the adequate funding levels for schools overlooks the challenges at small, isolated rural districts such as Big Sur Unified. As a single school-school district providing education to TK-12th grade, the enrollment numbers are irrelevant. What matters is how many teachers are needed to instruct all of the high school courses so that all the required high school courses are offered and the school receives its maximum amount of high school funding.

    In the TK -8th grades, multiple grade levels must be taught at the same time by one teacher with an instructional aide so that 2 to 3 grade levels of students will receive adequate instruction. Even our high school teachers instruct 2 different grade levels or courses during some of their classes. Our teacher and classified employee salary schedules are among the lowest in the state. Our plant maintenance expenditure ratio per pupil is among the highest. We must provide our own power, monitor and maintain our own water system and provide student transportation. Very little is left for repairs and modernization of our aging plant.

    Adequate funding for our school/district would include enough money to take care of all of the needs to maintain and operate all aspects of an excellent educational program. To report that Big Sur Unified’s funding level per student exceeded the amount needed to provide “adequate” education shows an ignorance of the reality and the inappropriateness of the study’s formula.

  3. el 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Any district that comes up as 0% eligible for free & reduced lunch is probably in error. (Check Round Valley Unified in Mendocino County.) But, super interesting tool. The language of "districts don't spend at adequate levels" implies that the districts and their management are at fault for being stingy. I'd prefer to write this as "districts aren't funded at adequate levels" since very few California districts have control over their income, and they can't spend … Read More

    Any district that comes up as 0% eligible for free & reduced lunch is probably in error. (Check Round Valley Unified in Mendocino County.)

    But, super interesting tool.

    The language of “districts don’t spend at adequate levels” implies that the districts and their management are at fault for being stingy. I’d prefer to write this as “districts aren’t funded at adequate levels” since very few California districts have control over their income, and they can’t spend money they don’t have.

    Thanks for highlighting this report and giving us this interesting tool.

    Replies

    • Smita Patel 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      El, You make an important point. We have now tripled checked this with the researchers on whose study this data tool is based as well as the California Department of Education's published data. The "Eligible for Free/Reduced Priced Meals" data cited in the table above are not wrong but can be confusing because they may not match the free/reduced-price meal counts published by the CDE and on Ed-Data. For this analysis, researchers used the CALPADS Unduplicated … Read More

      El,
      You make an important point. We have now tripled checked this with the researchers on whose study this data tool is based as well as the California Department of Education’s published data. The “Eligible for Free/Reduced Priced Meals” data cited in the table above are not wrong but can be confusing because they may not match the free/reduced-price meal counts published by the CDE and on Ed-Data.

      For this analysis, researchers used the CALPADS Unduplicated Pupil Count Source File (K–12), which is the starting point for calculating funding under the Local Control Funding Formula. From this file, they used Column S for the Free and Reduced Meal Program, which is a “…total count of students reported being eligible on Census Day for the National School Lunch Program.” However, that column does not include students such as foster, homeless or migrant youth (whom the researchers included separately in their analysis) or students who enrolled after Census Day (the first Wednesday in October of the school year).

      Because the state considers homeless, foster and migrant youth to be “categorically eligible” for the free meal program, they are included in the official free and reduced-price meal data that it publishes. I believe Column S also excludes students in the district’s charter schools, but charter-school students are included in free/reduced-price meal counts at the district level on Ed-Data and DataQuest.

      Our apologies for any confusion this may cause. We have added a note below the data tool to try to clarify the source of the free/reduced-price meal data displayed here.

  4. Jennifer Bestor 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Is there a chance the base “adequacy" bar was set a bit low in this study? Five of the contributing professionals teach at schools that appear to be substantially overspending: Sequoia Union High (by 9%), Beverly Hills Unified and Menlo Elementary (by 29%), Laguna Beach (by 55%). The thing is, from a state testing perspective, none of these districts is even close to 100% meeting state standards. Respectively, from Ed-Source, … Read More

    Is there a chance the base “adequacy” bar was set a bit low in this study?
    Five of the contributing professionals teach at schools that appear to be substantially overspending: Sequoia Union High (by 9%), Beverly Hills Unified and Menlo Elementary (by 29%), Laguna Beach (by 55%). The thing is, from a state testing perspective, none of these districts is even close to 100% meeting state standards.
    Respectively, from Ed-Source, for ELA and math, the percent of students meeting or exceeding the standards are: SUHSD: 66%/48%; BHUSD: 77%/63%; MPCSD: 84%/81%; and LBUSD: 63%/48%.
    It would be useful to hear what district programs the experts feel could be cut (and adequacy still maintained) in their districts, or maybe whether teacher salaries should be capped (to discourage more expensive, experienced teachers from such schools), or whether these test numbers nevertheless represent over-achievement in the state’s tests and could cut back a bit?
    Of course, all of these schools are in high-cost areas — and, while there seems to be a small regional-cost factor included, it is nowhere close to addressing the local cost of living. Furthermore, the flat statewide FRPM cut-off probably significantly under-identifies kids in high cost areas as disadvantaged.

  5. Greg Lipford 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I think it’s shameful to borrow advocates’ language without submitting them to a reasonableness test or other examination. To call more than $400,000 per classroom (in the example offered) not “adequate” is to participate in advocacy rather than to conduct journalistic review.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

      Greg: Could you explain where you get the figure $400,000 per classroom, and does it include all of the costs of running a school system? I am not sure what you mean by "advocates." The study convened two panels of a cross-section of respected teachers and administrators and asked them what resources would be needed to fulfill the academic standards and graduation requirements set by the State Board of Education, including the extra needs of … Read More

      Greg: Could you explain where you get the figure $400,000 per classroom, and does it include all of the costs of running a school system?

      I am not sure what you mean by “advocates.” The study convened two panels of a cross-section of respected teachers and administrators and asked them what resources would be needed to fulfill the academic standards and graduation requirements set by the State Board of Education, including the extra needs of students with disabilities, English learners and low-income children. Researchers from the American Institutes for Research then calculated the costs of the recommendations.

      There are several ways to determine adequacy: Professional judgment panels are recognized as one method. Educators are not disinterested parties; they do advocate for the kids they teach. I would hope that they do. Legislators must determine what is affordable.