Race to the Bottom? California’s Support for Schools Lags the Nation

Anyone trying to understand today’s headlines can find the story behind the story in a new CBP School Finance Facts released today. Race to the Bottom? California’s Support for Schools Lags the Nation shows that by almost any measure California ranks near or at the bottom with respect to the level of funding for public schools relative to that of other states. For example, even without adjusting for the state’s comparatively higher costs, California spends far less per student than the rest of the US – $2,546 less per student in 2009-10. That means California’s schools would have had to spend an additional $76,400 for each 30-student classroom to reach the per student spending level of the rest of the nation. Because California spends less to support public schools it has more students per classroom than any other state – averaging 21.3 students for each teacher in 2009-10, compared to 13.8 students per teacher for the rest of the US.

While California’s support for public schools has lagged the nation during at least the past four decades, the state’s standing has declined dramatically during the last three years. As a result, an increasing number of California school districts are facing bankruptcy.

Looming school district bankruptcies and a dramatic decline in the state’s education rankings should be seen as a reason to maintain support for California’s schools. Instead, Governor Schwarzenegger’s “cuts only” approach to balancing the budget would slash $1.5 billion more from general purpose funding for K-12 education. A more balanced approach won’t alleviate the need for spending cuts, but would leave California schools in a better position to recover when the state’s economy improves.

— Jonathan Kaplan

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