The Incredible Shrinking State Dollars for K-12 Schools

Posted on 15 December 2011

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend by emailSend by email

By Vivian Po
New America Media

State funding for California’s K-12 public schools has fallen by $7 billion since the onset of the recession. The state now spends $1,000 less per student than it did in 2007-2008.

“There has been a very large reduction in revenues that determine Prop 98, California's formula for calculating minimum school funding,” said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst with the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan group that monitors fiscal and policy issues.

Per student spending is now close to the 1989-90 level, after adjusting for inflation. “We are basically at a similar level of funding than we were at 20 years ago,” Kaplan said.

Prop 98, or the Classroom Instructional Improvement and Accountability Act, was passed by voters in 1988. It requires the state to spend a minimum percentage of its budget on K-12 and community college education. It is by far the largest source of dollars schools receive.

In good times, the Act provided ever-increasing funds that grew each year with the economy and number of students. But with the rapid drop in tax revenues following the onset of the recession, funding on K-12 plummeted from $50.3 billion in the 2007-2008 school year to $43 billion in 2008-2009, where it has remained static.

Schools See a 6 Percent Reduction Per Student

Local school districts have offset the deep cuts in state funding through a mix of strategies, from tapping to one-time only federal stimulus dollars to deferring unpaid programs to the following year’s budget, a practice known as deferral.

The state began significantly relying on deferrals in 2008-09, when the state delayed $3 billion in payments to the next fiscal year to balance the budget. The state has continued to rely on payment deferrals to achieve budget savings by increasing deferrals in the last years. For the 2011-12, the state will be deferring $9.5 billion in K-12 payments.

“It doesn’t mean that programs necessarily went down by the same amount because districts are borrowing and using federal dollars to supplement them,” explains Jennifer Kuhn, director of K-12 education with the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO).

Thanks to the promised dollars from deferrals, as well as federal stimulus money, Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) and other state funds, Kuhn found the actual drop per pupil funding was about $500.

“We have funding down 6 percent in 2011-2012 from the 2007-2008 level on a per pupil per program basis,” said Kuhn. The results are visible in increased class sizes, shortened school year, and teacher furloughs.

Mid-Year Budget Risk: The Triggers

All this, of course, is before mid-year trigger cuts. Governor Jerry Brown announced Tuesday that K-12 school districts will face another $79.6 million reduction in general funding, along with a $248 million elimination of school bus funding.

Though the mid-year cuts was not as dramatic as many predicted for this year, the budget future on education remains uncertain. The budget shortfall for 2012-2013 could reach $13 billion unless voters pass one of numerous revenue proposals on the November 2012 ballot.

“If none of them is adopted, then presumably that 13 billion will come largely from cuts,” said Kuhn. “Education will bear some portion of that reduction."


Vivian Po is a staff reporter for New America Media, where this article first appeared.

If you look at the tax data from 1993 to 2008, California AGI has dropped $48 billion. I have no doubt it droppe in 2009 and 20010. However, we do not have that tax data yet.

California is slowly being impoverished at the rate of about $4 billion/year AGI. Obviously, K-12, like everything else, is going to be cut. This is the end stage of socialism. At some point, you are going to have to rejuvenate the economy by lower tax rates and reducing regulations. Otherwise, this slow impoverishmeint will continue as the productive leavee.

The previous comment is absurd. What socialism? There is very little socialism in California or in the U.S. There is social security and medicare. There is health care for the military.
There are credit unions, which are a pre socialist organization. But the vast majority of the economy is in private hands.

Republicans opposed any efforts to raise taxes or other revenues and thus forced these mid year budget cuts. In spite of their minority status in the legislature, the Republicans won the budget battle of 2011. They got a cut in the sales tax by 1 %, and a cut in the vehicle license fee. The result were further cuts in the Univ. of California, further cuts in the California State University system, and further cuts ( called deferrals) in the K-12 schools.
California is presently 47th. out of the 50 states in per pupil expenditures, we are among the very poorest in funding our schools.
Are we broke? No. What we lack is the political will on the part of Congress and the state legislature to solve our deficit problem by taxing those who have wealth rather than sacrificing the well being of those who have not. That may be a kind of deficit but it is political, not financial. And, it certainly is not socialism.
Duane Campbell.
Sacramento Chair. Democratic Socialists of America

I am very confused by the reported cost per pupil. I see in one article that it is around $10,000 per student and that this is 47th in the nation and, yet, in other articles it is very high. How can this be so?

Easy, they lie. California reports its cost per pupil without including capital costs. Capital costs came out of a proposition. Since California's costs don't include capital costs they look quite low. A good example is LA. LA has almost $30,000 per head if you include capital costs, yet near $9000 if you don't.

I checked up on several other states. Every state I have seen includes Capital costs in their budgets. Therefore, the statement that California is 47th in spending is just another typical Liberal lie.

"Too many people, driving too many cars and building too many box stores that replaced too much precious, irreplaceable land " Joe Guzzardi