School dollars are once again at the center of the state’s budget debate. However, California’s education finance system is so complicated that many lawmakers, school officials, and state budget mavens alike find it difficult to comprehend. Yesterday, the CBP released a new publication that explains how California schools get and spend their money. The report shows, for example, that the state budget provides the majority of schools’ dollars, which helps explain why schools feel the pinch when state lawmakers cut education spending, as they have in recent years. The report also explains that while the state Constitution requires a minimum level of funding for schools and community colleges, the so-called Proposition 98 guarantee has often served as a ceiling for the amount of dollars provided to schools as well as a floor. On the other side of the ledger, our analysis shows that schools spend the largest share of their dollars on their workforce. That helps explain why recent cuts to state education spending led schools to reduce California’s teacher workforce by 11 percent between 2007-08 and 2010-11.
Policymakers are currently debating whether to make substantial changes to the state’s education finance system by moving to a system of “weighted student funding.” By aligning state education spending more closely with school costs, weighted student funding could make the state’s system of education finance more transparent and equitable. A special section of our new report discusses weighted student funding and some of the policy issues it raises.
— Jonathan Kaplan