California Faces Unique Challenges in Educating Its K-12 Students – but the State’s School Spending Continues to Lag the Nation

California Has Greater Financial Resources Than Other States, Yet Invests Far Smaller Share in K-12 Education, Report Finds


SACRAMENTO – Although California’s K-12 public schools educate a student population that, compared to the rest of the US, presents greater challenges and costs more to educate, the state invests far less in K-12 schools than the rest of the US, according to a new analysis from the California Budget Project.

Rising to the Challenge: Why Greater Investment in K-12 Education Matters for California’s Students shows that California’s schools enroll the largest share of English learners (ELs) in the US and that the share of students from low-income families is greater in California than in the rest of the nation. California’s large number of ELs and economically disadvantaged students means that its students as a whole cost more to educate than those in other states.

However, California invests less in K-12 education than other states, despite having greater financial resources per capita. In 2012-13, per capita personal income in California ($47,115) was higher than for the rest of the US ($43,905). This same year, the rest of the nation invested 4.04 percent of total personal income in K-12 education, a level more than one-fourth higher than the 3.18 percent in California.

“The bottom line is that California can afford to invest more in K-12 education than it does,” said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst at the California Budget Project. “Unless we boost school funding, we’ll continue to fall short in supporting the key pathway to opportunity for our state’s young people.”

Rising to the Challenge, which draws on the latest available data on school spending and student demographics, finds that:

  • California’s 1.3 million ELs nearly equal the combined number of ELs in the next four most populous states – Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois – even though these four states together have roughly twice as many students as California.
  • More than half (53.0 percent) of California’s students come from low-income families, a higher share than in the rest of the US (46.8 percent). Among the five most populous states, only Florida has a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students (56.0 percent) than California.
  • California’s schools have more students per staff than schools in the rest of the US, ranking last or close to the bottom by a number of key K-12 student-to-staff ratios. California ranks 51st nationally (including all states and DC) in students per teacher, 51st in students per guidance counselor, 51st in students per librarian, and 48th in students per administrator.
  • California schools as a whole spend a larger portion of their dollars on instruction and student services than do schools in other states. According to 2010-11 figures – the most recent available – California spent 94.8 cents of each education dollar on instruction and student services, compared to 93.8 cents spent in these areas by schools in the rest of the US.

This report notes the importance of the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), approved by the Governor and the Legislature this past summer, in directing additional resources to disadvantaged students, and also indicates that per student spending is expected to increase in the next couple of years due to voter approval in November 2012 of Proposition 30’s temporary tax increases.

However, the report cautions that the LCFF and Proposition 30 do not in themselves provide sufficient resources for educating California’s K-12 students.

“Prop 30 and the new funding formula both represent major steps forward for California,” Kaplan said. “But it’s critical that policymakers and the public take a serious look at how our state over the long term can provide schools with the resources they need to ensure a high-quality education for California’s students.”

Rising to the Challenge is available online at the CBP’s website,

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The California Budget Project (CBP) engages in independent fiscal and policy analysis and public education with the goal of improving public policies affecting the economic and social well-being of low- and middle-income Californians. Support for the CBP comes from foundation grants, subscriptions, and individual contributions. Please visit the CBP’s website at