California’s public schools spend an average of $8,452 per student last year in local, state and federal funds, but some districts spent much more and others much less, reports a California Watch analysis. Big spenders don’t have better academic results. There’s no correlation.
The Carmel Unified School District spent nearly $16,000 per student, despite serving an affluent, heavily white enrollment. Scores are high, but so are scores in Norris School District, which spends as third as much in a middle-class area of Bakersfield.
Oakland and Moreno Valley have a similar number of students, and both have diverse student bodies. In each district, nearly three-fourths of the students are poor enough to qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch. The districts’ test scores are similar.
Yet last year, Oakland spent about $3,000 more per student. It gets nearly twice as much as Moreno Valley in targeted funds for dropout prevention, school safety and other special programs. It also gets nearly twice as much in federal funds intended for poor children, and it received more stimulus funds. On top of that, Oakland receives about $20 million each year from a parcel tax approved by local voters.
California equalized state education funding in the ’70s, creating a byzantine system. “Local, state and federal funds for close to a hundred different programs” has created new inequities, California Watch concludes.
Legislation has been proposed to tie funding to students’ learning needs — more for low-income, non-English-speaking and disabled students, for example. It’s an old idea that requires messing with a bunch of vested interests. And the state is broke.