School Funding: Is Bad Good Enough?

by Carol Kocivar | August 7, 2017 | 0 Comments
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Getting Back to Bad

Take a good look at the ten-year chart below. It shows what has happened to California's funding for public schools since the Great Recession.

Source: California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO)

Starting in 2008, school funding took a massive nosedive. California voters passed two funding initiatives, Proposition 30 in 2012 and Proposition 55 in 2016, to fill that funding hole.

The good news: Today, California’s funding is back near the 2007-2008 level, adjusted for inflation. Funding was essentially restored.

The bad news: Funding in 2007-2008 was waaaaay below the national average. It was skimpy. And it showed. California ranked 43rd in the nation in total spending per student. It had some of the largest class sizes in the nation, along with fewer counselors, librarians, school nurses, administrators, and arts programs.

In 2007-08, the scores of California’s students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) lagged far behind most other states.

The Lost Decade

Ten years later, when it comes to investing in children and schools, California is still just getting “back to bad”. In 2017 Education Week ranked California 43rd in spending per student, adjusted for cost of living, based on 2013-14 data. Class sizes remain about the largest in America, and California is still about dead last in counselors, librarians, and administrators.

And how well are our students doing? The most recent national test scores (NAEP) still show our children behind.


So how bad is this?

Sorry to spring this on you, but the differences are huge. Education Week regularly compares funding per student based not just on nominal dollars per student, but based on what those dollars can actually buy in each state. On that basis, California funds education at a level about 72% of the national average, and less than half that of New York. (Source: 2017 Quality Counts report based on 2013-14 expenditures.)

Are there Cuts in Your School’s Future?

As schools open this fall, the news does not get better.

California's pension system for teachers and other school employees has been out of whack for years. Fixing it is necessary, but also costly. School districts will feel the pressure. Pensions aren't the only source of cost pressure, either: Teaching is one of many job options for college-educated people. Over the last decade, the number of people training to become teachers has shrunk in California, and to strongly reverse the trend will require attractive pay. Districts are tightening their belts to raise wages or offer bonuses to attract candidates.

California has made important and significant changes to ensure that our neediest children get a larger share of education funding. But there is a long way to go to address the chronic underfunding of California schools.

Ask your district for information about funding at your school. How is your district addressing these challenges? Is getting “back to bad” good enough? What does your school need?

Send me a note at

If you want to learn even more about school funding, Ed100 Chapter 8 spells it out.

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