CA student spending near bottom

By some other measures, middle of the pack
By

John Fensterwald contributed to this report.

California schools are the poster child for Gov. Brown’s new budget mantra that the state can’t spend what it doesn’t have. The latest Quality Counts report from Education Week ranks California 47th overall in how much it spends per student – $8,667 when adjusted for regional cost differences, about $3,000 below the national average of $11,665.

California remains near the bottom nationwide in per student spending. (Source:  Quality Counts 2012) Click to enlarge.

California remains near the bottom nationwide in per-student spending. (Source: Quality Counts 2012) Click to enlarge.

This is a drop over last year, when California spent $8,852 per pupil, with a ranking of 43rd in spending adjusted for regional cost-of-living variations. Of course, that was before the state faced a nearly $27 billion deficit.

The state also falls short when it comes to education spending as a percentage of state and local taxable resources. That comes to 3.3 percent according to the report, putting California in 40th place. The national average is 3.9 percent. For another perspective, Vermont puts 6 percent of its taxable resources into education; and even Texas does a little better than California at 3.7 percent.

The picture is better in the equity analysis. California ranks 12th on a measure called the wealth-neutrality score. This is defined by EdWeek as the “degree to which state and local revenue are related to the property wealth of districts.” The state’s 0.038 average means that poorer districts receive more funding than wealthy ones on a weighted per-pupil basis.

It’s interesting to note the differences in where states get the bulk of their education funds. In California in 2008-09, local revenues contributed $21 billion or 29.6 percent; another $9.2 billion, 13 percent,  came from the federal government (above the national average of 9.6 percent); the state ponied up the remaining $40.6 billion. Nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, state shares ranged from a low of 27.6 percent in Illinois to a high of 85.7 percent in Vermont.

Mixed bag on other measures

EdWeek’s 16th annual report grades states based on their performance in 18 measures divided among six areas of policy and performance. In addition to finance, they include chance for success; the teaching profession; K-12 achievement; standards, assessments, and accountability; and transitions and alignment.

California Report Card. (source:  Quality Counts 2012) click to enlarge.

California Report Card. (Source: Quality Counts 2012) click to enlarge.

Overall, the state landed pretty much in the center of the bell curve, four-tenths of a point below the national average of 76.5. Even the top-ranked Maryland only pulled off a B-plus.

California needs improvement in some areas, but also did very well in a few. It’s like the saying goes, even a blind chicken finds a kernel of corn now and then. California found its kernels in standards, assessments, and accountability – at least partly. When it comes to standards and accountability, California is the tops, straight As. But not so much on how well we measure them; that’s just good enough for a C-plus.

17 Comments

  1. “California found its kernels in standards, assessments, and accountability…”

    Right.  California is obsessed with inputs (standards, how much money we spend, student/teacher ratio, etc.) but terrible with outputs (actually educating students). 

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  2. Hey @capitol. if your output claim is true, you think it might have anything to do with the point made in the article?
    Anyone know how much CA spends on accountability anyway?

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  3. Kathryn and John,
    Do you think there is a possibility that Education Week uses teacher salaries as one of their components of “regional cost differences?”  Is it possible that relative teacher salaries might be skewing their conclusions?  Do you know how California teacher salaries compare with other states?
    I suggest you look at the other tables at your link to the National Center for Education Statistics (particularly Table 1 and Table 3); California is nowhere near the bottom in per student K-12 spending.  It’s also informative to check Table 6, which shows the unadjusted and adjusted (to 2009 dollars) values for average spending from 1985 to 2009.  How much longer can the historical increases in education funding be sustained?
    Could it be that Education Week has never considered the possibility that there might be more variation of “regional cost differences” within California than between California (its average value) and other states?  To us locals it’s obvious that Paradise, Palo Alto, and Paramount are very different (as are Eureka, El Centro, and El Cerrito, etc), but the folks that write the big reports might not know that.
    I cannot emphasize enough that these “state to state” comparisons are very limited in value.  The states are not equal.  Remember, size matters.  If and when you normalize the data (in any of several ways), California seems to come out somewhere in the middle.
    Do you have any idea of what the funding per student is for the 100,000 students in the best funded districts in California?
    Let’s stop wringing our hands about “how underfunded our schools are” and get down to the business of figuring out how best to use the resources we have.

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  4. Navigio – it wasnt lost on me. Despite budget constraints, CA lawmakers only talk about how much money we spend.  They rarely talk about what we’re getting for any of our money. 

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  5. Hi @capitol. When it comes to measuring results we not only need accountability to do that (to some extent anyway), but I believe what the data tells us is far from clear. If you disaggregate by subgroup, virtually every group has improved in proficiency rate since the modern CST was introduced. I even recently attempted a few subgroups by cohort analysis (which is admittedly a sketchy approach) and they also only improved over time. A while back I graphed the PEL proficiency rates by grade for the state, county and a couple districts in my area. Funny thing. All the graphs were identical in shape, but only ‘pushed up higher’ with parent education level. Not surprising, but indicative of what we’re getting for our money?  Of course there was also the common 3rd grade plunge and 4th grade spike, which I assume means that either all 3rd graders are stupid and 4th graders are smart, or all 3rd grade teachers suck and all 4th grade teachers are excellent. Is this really what that data is telling us? I hope we take ‘adjustments’ like that into account when we assess the ‘output’ of our educational system.
    In any case, when you disaggregate ‘properly’ ‘output’ looks a whole lot different than when you dont. Are those valid disaggregations?  Probably only partially, but if anything they are not specific enough. Whether accountability is a tradeoff to success is only a valid question if we spend enough on it to hinder success elsewhere. To some extent that may be true, however, its more likely that we’d go back to ignoring what we dont measure, and all those longitudinal trends would like start once again falling… assuming of course anyone was actually measuring them..

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  6. hi @tomc. I agree that it matters how you spend your money, but I disagree that correcting systemic inefficiencies is going to come anywhere near close to correcting for changing funding levels. Cutting off one’s nose to spite ones face (and force resistant bureaucrats to mend their ways) may feel good, but it does nothing to help students.
    Even then, systemic reforms intended solely to save money (most of them fall into that category) will invariably reduce the quality of our kids’ educational environment. One may respond that at this point we dont have much choice and one may be right, but that doesnt somehow mean that the quality of education wont go down right along with spending.

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  7. Does anyone know what is counted as cost per student?  i.e. Are all the pension and medical benefits paid to retirees accounted for in the cost per student as that is the REAL cost per student.

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  8. Newsflash: student outcomes are tightly tied to family income. Most modern nations have figured this out ant have measures to compensate for income inequality by providing medical and dental care for children and their families, quality pre-school, daycare, after-school programs and social services. Our teachers do very well indeed compared to other nations when you compare students of the same socio-economic status. Your teachers do this  even without all those supports. Think what we could do if we quit beating up on the schools and instead put our money where our mouth is and really taok good care of our future citizens, all the way through college. They are our future.

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