Full Implementation of the LCFF Could Bring California’s Per Pupil Spending Closer to the Rest of the US

Last week the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published an overview of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the fundamental restructuring of California’s K-12 education finance system. The report discusses the LCFF, details how it will provide additional dollars to disadvantaged students, and estimates how much it will cost to implement. In addition to establishing equity as a key principle for how the state funds schools, the LCFF sets a funding goal that could boost California’s per pupil spending closer — if not equal — to that of the rest of the US once the formula is fully implemented.

California should aspire to a better per student spending ranking than the bottom 10, where the state has ranked for the past several years. As we’ve blogged about, California spends $2,500 less per student than the rest of the nation. To reach the same level of per student spending as the rest of the US, California would have needed to spend $15.3 billion more in 2012-13 than it did. While such a boost in funding might seem out of reach, it is actually a smaller increase than what the LAO estimates is needed to fully implement the LCFF. Specifically, for the LCFF to be fully implemented by 2020-21 — the goal established by the Governor and the Legislature — the LAO estimates that school funding would need to reach a level that is equal to an $18 billion increase in 2013-14 (above 2012-13 funding), not accounting for required cost-of-living adjustments. So even though the LCFF is not expected to be fully implemented for several years, policymakers should be commended for establishing a goal that calls for substantially increased state support for schools and could bring state spending per student closer to the level of the rest of the nation.

Reaching this goal, however, depends on a serious long-term approach to increasing state revenue. For instance, such an approach would need to account for the fact that the tax increases from Proposition 30 will expire in 2018. And in a broader sense, a plan for significantly increasing revenues could be part of an ambitious, long-range vision for California. Whether the state will have sufficient revenues to fully implement the LCFF by 2020-21 is unclear. What is clear is that delaying LCFF implementation would perpetuate both California’s low ranking relative to other states and current funding inequities.

— Jonathan Kaplan