Will School Budgets Survive?

by Carol Kocivar | May 25, 2020 | 0 Comments
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To Open Safely, Schools Need More Money, not Less

A tsunami is about to wipe out California school budgets like sandcastles on a beach. The California Education Coalition, a combination of the state's major education organizations, is sounding the alarm. The funds proposed in the education budget are grossly insufficient. Without more funding, vital school services will be swept away at the very moment they are needed most. The harms will be severe and lasting. Children will be hurt.

To reopen schools safely will require measures that cost money, including:

  • Uncrowded classes. To keep students and staff healthy and safe, schools need changes to shrink class sizes and reduce crowding.
  • Clean spaces. Schools need a new standard of cleaning and safety protocols with sufficient supplies.
  • Health services. Counselors and nurses are needed to support student physical and mental health.
  • Nutrition. As unemployment has spiked, more students than ever are reliant on school meals.

The California State PTA, a member of the Coalition, is urging parents to take action. “We need to speak up and advocate for more money: More money from the federal government, more money at the ballot box, and more revenue in the state budget.”

How Bad is It?

To meet the challenges of this pandemic, schools need more resources. Instead, they will get less. Resources for education are being slashed.

As Ed100 Lesson 8.4 explains, funding for K-12 schools and community colleges is largely determined by a formula that voters put into the state constitution decades ago by passing Proposition 98. In good times, when state tax receipts go up, Proposition 98 requires the budget for education to go up with it. In hard times, when state receipts fall, the minimum amount of funding guaranteed for education decreases.

These are hard times. State revenue this year is projected to drop sharply — so sharply that if schools were funded only at the minimum level guaranteed by Proposition 98 they would be cut by $18 billion. That's billion, with a B.

Source: California Department of Finance

California's annual budget process calls for the Governor to propose revisions in May. To lessen the harm to children, this year's "May Revision" of the budget shifts some state spending to support education. The budget also includes some one-time federal stimulus money from the federal CARES act. (Only about one percent of the federal stimulus funding was directed to education — an amount reasonably viewed as budget dust.)

Lacking serious federal help, the proposed California budget still leaves schools and other programs underwater.

Major Cut to Local Control Funding Formula

To help balance a precarious budget, K-12 education is facing a 10 percent reduction of funding for the Local Control Funding Formula ($6.5 billion in 2020-21). This is the major source of money for schools.

Estimated impacts of 10% cut in LCFF
Source: Education Coalition

Equiv. cut per student


Equiv. Cut per classroom


Equiv. Teacher lay-offs


Equiv. Classified employee lay-offs


Equiv. pct. increase in class size


As in other states, California's constitution requires a balanced budget. The state cannot spend money it does not have. But it can make some adjustments by delaying payments of billions of dollars it owes to school districts. Late payments are part of the state’s budget proposal.

This is not a cost-free solution, of course. To make ends meet, school districts turn to whatever local budget reserves they have. Many will borrow to pay the bills, incurring additional costs. In the Great Recession, many schools simply closed their doors when the money started to run out. (You can find the Governor’s proposals to close the gap here.)

More State and Federal Support

The Coalition is asking the legislature and the Newsom administration for greater support for education — now.

Coalition proposals include:

Review tax credits and deductions to see if eliminating some of them could generate more money for schools.

Protect local schools against revenue losses caused by low attendance. Currently, the amount of money schools get depends on how many kids show up. If schools close because of a resurgence of the pandemic or parents keep kids home from school for health or safety reasons, attendance drops and so does school funding.

Unfortunately, state money alone cannot suffice. Schools will still be short by billions.

“The magnitude of this crisis requires a response only the Federal Government can provide.” — Governor Gavin Newsom

The Learning Policy Institute estimates that a 15 percent reduction in state education funding could lead to the loss of more than 300,000 teaching positions nationwide. States just don’t have that kind of money tucked away in reserves to stave off cuts.

Largest Teaching Force Reductions, by State
(Based on a 15% reduction in state contributions to education revenue)


Estimated Lost Teaching Positions

Teaching Force Lost to Cuts (%)




New York


















New Jersey









Source: Learning Policy Institute analysis

The Council of Great City Schools and the National Education Association (NEA) are mobilizing support for more federal dollars. The video below is part of a media campaign from the National PTA and the NEA in support of public education.

The California State PTA is asking members to speak up:

Contact your state representatives: Let them know what the impact of the proposed budget will be on your school. To find your representatives click here.

Advocate for More Federal Funding: Contact your federal representatives and ask them to support an additional $200 billion in federal funds for schools, as urged by the Education Coalition. Unless Congress acts, schools will experience major budget cuts triggered by the pandemic. Click here to send a message to your federal representatives.

Help pass the Schools and Communities First initiative: This measure on the November ballot could raise about $11.5 billion dollars each year for our schools and local communities. Click here to volunteer.

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