California: Spending isn’t linked to results

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.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    It isn’t? Why wasn’t I told?

  2. Only in California could a system of “equalizing” funding result in Byzantine mismatches.

  3. Two districts could have the same percentage of low-income children but wind up with much different amounts of Title I money from the Feds depending on the distribution of those children within the various schools. A school only gets Title I money if the school has at least 40% of its students meeting the income requirements. So a district that has 35% low-income &t who distributes those out evenly over all its schools gets nothing, while another district with 35% low-income but who concentrates them in only some schools would get funding.

  4. Most CA schools are underfunded. In my middle class district, the 600+ student middle school has no VP, no nurse, virtually no foreign language program, few aides, poorly maintained facilities, 1/3 of a tech guy, 1/2 of a counselor… Many elective classes have 40-50 students. It is such a shoe-string operation. I have little doubt that more money wisely spent would help raise achievement in my school –start by hiring a VP and improving discipline (=more learning). But do I begrudge the Oaklands for receiving more per pupil? No. Achievement there, while still low, would probably be lower without the extra dollars.

  5. “Most CA schools are underfunded. In my middle class district, the 600+ student middle school has no VP, no nurse, virtually no foreign language program, few aides, poorly maintained facilities, 1/3 of a tech guy, 1/2 of a counselor… Many elective classes have 40-50 students.”

    Oh gosh, poor kiddies. In my middle school in the early 60s, we had no VP, no nurse, no foreign language program, no aides, poorly maintained facilities, no tech guy, and no counselor. We also had no music program, no art program, and no PE program. (Recess was PE.) There were two sixth grades and each grade had 54 students. Discipline was no problem at all. Somehow, we did just fine. Since we were obviously so deprived of resources, how could that be?

  6. I expect that you’ll find that spending is linked to results if it drops below a certain level; but above that level the extra spending is often for amenities that make life at school nicer for students, teachers and administrators as opposed to things that directly affect academic performance.

  7. I call bogus on “anon’s” comment, for the simple reason that middle school (grades 6-8) generally did not exist at that time. Junior high (grades 7-9) did exist, and it is a very different situation both developmentally and socially.

    And geez, aren’t we supposed to be improving situations for students, not making them worse? Good grief, old farts playing the “get off my lawn” game make me annoyed.

    For the record, my junior high in the early 70s had a VP, a nurse, a counselor, music programs, home ec, PE, various woodshop/tech programs, and two foreign languages. Class sizes of around 30-some kids. This was not a particularly affluent district, either.

  8. @Darren:

    after two decades living in California, I would have agreed with you that only in the Guilded State would ” a system of “equalizing” funding result in Byzantine mismatches.”

    Having escaped California and living in New Jersey these past four years (where our state Supreme Court bizarrely inserted itself into the school funding debate this month), I now have empirical evidence that that is not true.

    If you think the whole Prop 13/58/98 labyrinth is a mess, check out the history of the so-called “Abbott Districts” in the Garden State.

    Truly, through the looking glass.

  9. Anon’s experience matches mine in the same time frame. One principal covered the whole 1-12 school, there was one secretary and the teachers handled guidance. Although the (small only) cities (schools run by towns, not counties, in my state) had separate JHS, the town schools did not. Many, including mine, had no kindergartens. Class sizes were typically about 35 (1 class per grade), there were general, commercial and college prep tracks in HS and the usual was about 2 kids to the state university and a few to the 2-yr tech school, hospital-based nursing schools (which haven’t existed for decades), cosmetology etc. Many of the kids were poor (not that we knew it) and few had parents with college degrees, but the level of basic literacy, numeracy and general knowledge was better than decent. However, parents socialized their kids appropriately, so that the school environment was safe and disciplined.

    I would be amazed if the CA schools are underfunded. I would NOT be amazed to find that enormous amounts of money are being wasted on administrative fiefdoms, as is the case in most areas I have lived. Forty years of pouring money at the schools (not just in CA) has not produced academic improvement, either.

  10. Mark Roulo says:

    Ben F: “Most CA schools are underfunded.”

    At an average class size of 25, the $8,500 per student that California spends (much of which stays in Sacramento, but the taxpayers pay this much…) works out to about $210,000. The average California public school teacher makes around $65,000 per year in salary (I’m going from memory) and gets and additional $15,000 or so in benefits.

    How much money per student would it take for you to no longer consider California schools underfunded?

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    That might depend on the percentage that gets to the school. If only, for example half gets to the school, then you need twice that in funding to the state.
    On the other hand, any current situation is usually seen as the minimum, the baseline. A dime less is a catastrophe. That’s true in most enterprises. So looking at somebody else’s current situation being higher means, by definition, you may be shortchanged.

  12. What’s amazing is no one here has suggested what’s obvious to teachers around the country; the tests these “results” are based on are flawed.

  13. The ADA hasn’t been $8.5k per student in several years. I think currently it’s around $5.2k. Granted many of the schools get additional money from the Feds and local property taxes, but I do think that at the moment, many schools in CA are, indeed, underfunded.

  14. Mark Roulo says:

    “The ADA hasn’t been $8.5k per student in several years.”

    It may never have been $8.5K per student. I think California state spending per student peaked at about $11.5K a few years ago, and it is easy for me to believe that less than $8.5K made it to the schools.

    But the taxes are collected at the $8.5K per student rate and the state spends at that rate. Either:

    (1) the difference between what the state spends and what the schools see is spending that we want, in which case the $8.5K number is the number to use, or

    (2) the difference is “wasted” (one way to say, “spent on stuff *we* don’t want, but someone else clearly does” :-)) in which case spending more is kinda pointless. We should start spending the education money on the schools.

    I’d still like to know what dollar amount would be no longer underfunded, though.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    How do you make that sideways 8?
    Funding is not assessed by the needs, but by what is going on elsewhere. If other people have less, you’re doing well. If other people have more, you’re underfunded.
    So when the funding reaches that sideways 8, those who have a couple of bucks less, or whose buses have to drive further and need more gas, or something like that, are going to be underfunded.
    There was a case in Michigan where the funding for Flint schools was the subject of lamentations in the local paper. Due to an error in the editing room, an unrelated article was run the same day explaining the funding in dozens of surrounding systems.
    There was a similar article about funding in a system–Chesaning, iirc–with similar lamentations. Then they got a new super, the old one barely escaping, and everything got settled down and the funding was okay. No more complaints about being like Mogadishu Consolidated.
    Similar story about a system near Detroit. I called the reporter and asked about nearby systems and their funding. “That wasn’t our intent.” We discussed nearby systems and their similar funding. I figured the story was to report on the super’s complaints without regard to anything else. No perspective.
    I will say that things have changed, and that does not include basic inflation. The mid-middle class school–semi rural/burbs–with terrific performance and average funding where my wife taught and our kids were educated, now has to have security officers and surveillance stuff. Not because somebody got the vapors, but because of a demographic change. So there are additional issues that need to be funded. Speced is probably one of them.
    But…even figuring out how to make that sideways 8 isn’t going to change the tune.