The Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula Would Boost California Spending Per Student

March 11, 2013

Resources matter when it comes to educating California’s 6.2 million K-12 students. Governor Brown’s school finance reform proposal, the “Local Control Funding Formula” (LCFF), focuses attention on that fact and would take the important step of directing dollars to students who need additional support to achieve the state’s academic standards — English learners, students from low-income families, and foster youth. The Governor’s proposal also would boost overall state spending per student, a measure on which California neared the bottom of the nation a couple of years ago, and could raise it to the same level as the rest of the US by the time the LCFF is fully implemented.

According to newly released data from the National Education Association, California school spending lags that in the rest of the nation by $2,500 per student. This means that in order to reach the same level of spending per student as the rest of the US, California would need to spend an additional $15.3 billion in the current (2012-13) budget year alone. The Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget calls for implementing the Local Control Funding Formula by raising the annual school funding level by a similar amount — $15.5 billion — over approximately seven years, plus annual cost-of-living adjustments. Even though it would not bring California’s spending per student up to the level of the rest of the US for several years, the additional funding the Governor proposes would provide a significant boost to state spending per student and is worthy of support.

Would the funding targets in the LCFF ensure that the state is providing the necessary resources to give every California student access to a quality education? Or does the state need to establish more ambitious funding goals to reach funding adequacy? Legislators have raised these questions at recent budget hearings, but broad agreement about what constitutes an adequate funding level to achieve the state’s rigorous performance goals remains elusive. One assemblymember suggested that California should not be satisfied with reaching the same level of spending per student as the rest of the US, but instead should aspire to rank in the top 10 states in the nation. To make it into the top 10, California would need to spend an additional $41.1 billion in 2012-13 — a funding level increase of more than two-thirds — which would require the state to raise significant new revenues. Such high aspirations for California spending per student are laudable and deserve our support. Yet at the same time, concerns that the state is not doing enough to establish sufficient funding levels should not be a reason to oppose a significant increase in state support for schools.

While the Governor’s proposal provides a boost to school funding, the LCFF does raise some concerns, including the need to make sure that additional dollars actually go to support the students for whom they are intended. Stay tuned to California Budget Bites for further analysis of how to strengthen accountability under the LCFF and ensure that restructuring the state’s school finance system improves education for all California students.

— Jonathan Kaplan

California School Spending: Winning the Race to the Bottom?

January 31, 2011

California schools are falling behind the rest of the nation, according to data recently released by the National Education Association. As a result of past cuts, California’s K-12 education spending dropped by more than $1,000 per student (10.2 percent) between 2008-09 and 2010-11 at the same time that US per student spending increased by nearly $550 (5.0 percent). This year, California ranks 47th in the nation in per pupil spending compared to ranking 35th in 2008-09.

Governor Brown’s Proposed 2011-12 Budget essentially “flat funds” K-12 education. However, the Governor’s funding level assumes that voters and lawmakers approve the Governor’s tax plan. Without the revenues raised by the Governor’s tax plan, the Proposition 98 minimum funding guarantee would fall by $2 billion in 2011-12 – equivalent to approximately $300 per K-12 student. If the Legislature and voters reject the Governor’s proposed tax plan and lawmakers chose to make up for lost revenues with across-the-board cuts, the reduction to K-12 education would be approximately $5.6 billion – more than $930 per student. Absent additional revenues, California could fall further toward the bottom in per student spending.

— Jonathan Kaplan