Concern has been mounting over how the state’s budget deficit will impact education funding.
The California Teachers Association, along with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, claims California’s per-pupil funding now ranks 47th nationally. Most experts agree California is around the middle of the pack, including the CTA’s own parent organization, the National Education Association.
But what matters to most California parents isn’t how much other states are spending — it’s the results their children’s school districts are getting compared to other school districts in California.On that front, California is doing poorly. It’s not because there’s too little funding. It’s because the state’s school-financing system is illogical and inequitable.
The California School Finance Center database — a new project from the Pacific Research Institute and Just for the Kids-California that compiles data from a dozen California Department of Education sources — helps shed some much-needed light on this reality. The database is designed to help parents and policymakers find out how their local districts stack up.
The data show some glaring discrepancies among similar school districts. In Ventura County, for instance, a majority of students in both Simi Valley Unified and Moorpark Unified scored proficient in English and math on the California Standards Test. But Simi Valley receives nearly $1,400 more per student — $10,579, compared to Pleasant Valley’s $9,198. In spite of receiving less funding and enrolling more English learners and low-income students, Moorpark posted better English and math proficiency rates. Conventional wisdom suggests that districts with more money perform better, but that’s not always the case.
More students in Santa Paula Elementary are proficient in English and math than in Oxnard Elementary. Yet, Santa Paula enrolls more low-income students and English learners than Oxnard, and receives about $500 less per student — $10,956 compared to Oxnard’s $11,414.
Taxpayers are entitled to wonder why their school districts may be spending more money for inferior results. So are other Californians.
Statewide, school districts where a majority of students is not proficient outnumber those where a majority is proficient by about three to one. In fact, average student proficiency rates in English and math at the state’s bottom 20 revenue districts, which average $8,900 in funding per student, are actually higher than proficiency rates at the top 20 revenue districts, which average more than $19,200 in funding per student.
State and local per-student funding should also be higher in districts that enroll children whose educational needs make them more expensive to educate, such as low-income students or English-learners. Yet on average, state and local funding actually decreases as the proportions of these children increase.
Such funding disparities can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars less for classrooms with the greatest need for additional teachers, books and intensive instruction programs.
Money does matter when it comes to public school performance, but just as important is how effectively that money is used. The California School Finance Center database is designed to present the most complete picture possible of how much funding public school districts and charter schools receive — and how well they perform. With the database, it is now easier to identify which public school districts and charter schools are making the most of every education dollar and emulate their success.