Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Three decades of underfunding public schools

A new report by the California Budget Project – “Race to the Bottom? California’s Support for Schools Lags the Nation” – underscores what’s at stake in the coming battle  between Gov. Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders on state education spending, a key difference in the stalemate over the state budget.
The report tracks 30 years of underfunding K-12 schools. Its conclusion: “The spending gap (between California and other states) widened after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, narrowed from the late 1990s through 2001-02, and has grown substantially since 2006-07.”
Many of the data points on expenditures are familiar:
  • California ranked 44th among the 50 states in K-12 spending in 2009-10, according to the National Education Association’s calculations. (Education Week, which factors in cost of living, ranks California lower.)
  • California spent  $2,546 less per student than the rest of the nation in 2009-10. It would have to spend $15,4 billion more to reach the national average.
  • The state ranked anywhere between 46th and 50th in terms of the number of K-12 students per teacher, guidance counselor, librarian and administrator.
As Democrats and Republicans get ready to square off once again on new taxes, consider a key measure of effort, what the state spends relative to what it can afford. California ranked 46th in spending as a percentage of personal income, a measure that  reflects the size of  the state’s economy and wealth. In 2008-09, it devoted 3.28 percent  of personal income to K-12 schools, nearly 1 percentage point less than the national average of 4.25 percent. That’s the widest gap in 30 years – a reflection of how hard California’s been whacked in the current recession.
But with the exception of 2001-02, when spending in California  spent 3.9 percent of personal income – 2 tenths percent behind the nation – California has always substantially lagged other states. The height of state spending was 1971-72, at 4 percent of personal income (4.5 percent nationally). Spending plummeted, to 3.4 percent, following the passage of Prop 13 in 1978, bumped along at roughly that level for 20 years before recovering in the dot-com years and falling again in the last four years.
The start of the fiscal year on Thursday found Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders about 10 percent apart on spending for public schools.
According to the California Budget Project, California would have to raise $15. 3 billion more for K-12 schools to reach the national average of 4.25 percent. That’s three times the $5 billion difference between the $54 billion that Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are calling for in public school spending and what Schwarzenegger has proposed.
Democrats are calling for an extraction tax on oil and the rescission of corporate tax breaks the Legislature passed last year. So far, no Republicans have indicated they’d go along.

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