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Dueling Budget Studies Offer Very Different Conclusions on Education Funding

December 9, 2010

As the discussion of California’s perennially debt-ridden state budget once again moved to the front burner in Sacramento, two reports on the topic of state funding for the K-12 public schools were released early this week – with each painting a very different picture of the financial condition of state government.

The California Chamber of Commerce released a voluminous 231-page document prepared by Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy.  Pepperdine tends to be associated with the more conservative elements in California politics.  And this report’s executive summary finds that “Over the last several years, the expression ‘budget cuts’ has been heard often regarding K-12 public school district expenditures in California. In reality, total expenditures (excluding Capital Expenditures) have increased every year from FY 2003-04 through FY 2007-08, before leveling off in FY 2008-09. (If Capital expenditures are included, the Total Expenditures have increased every Fiscal Year).”

This finding may come as a surprise to many administrators who have prepared school district budgets during the past three fiscal years, as local education agencies (LEAs) have absorbed reduction after reduction in state funding.  The Pepperdine study does allow that the percentage of school money going "directly into the classroom" has declined slightly.

Within hours, the California Budget Project (CBP) issued a terse three-page response, under the headline “Pepperdine University’s Analysis of California K-12 Expenditures Should Be Used With Caution.”

The CBP – which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that tends to be associated with the more liberal spectrum of the political continuum – contends that the Pepperdine study used a spending benchmark that does not reflect school costs, that Pepperdine’s calculations use time periods that do not match budget and fiscal years, that Pepperdine’s analysis “disregards California’s low number of school staff per student,” and so on.

CBP concluded that at the bottom line, “the (Pepperdine) study does not reflect the true cost of providing a quality education and that the report’s findings should be used only with extreme caution in policy debates over school finance.”

To read the Pepperdine University study, released by the California Chamber of Commerce, click here.

To read the response to the Pepperdine study by the California Budget Project, click here.

Source:   California Chamber of Commerce, California Budget Project, EdBrief staff