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California Budget Project Confirms Schools Have Experienced Deep Funding Cuts Since 2007-08

April 19, 2012

A new fact sheet released by the California Budget Project last week confirmed what K-12 school district financial officers already know – state funding to most school districts has declined by around $500 per pupil per year, and in some school districts, the reduction has been more than $600 per pupil per year.

The fact sheet, released on April 10, concludes that:
In response to sizeable budget shortfalls, lawmakers have repeatedly cut state spending in recent years. The Legislature reduced General Fund spending from $103.0 billion in 2007-08 to $91.6 billion in 2010-11 – a drop of 11.1 percent – as policymakers responded to the dramatic decline in revenues caused by the most severe economic downturn since the 1930s. Recent cuts have reversed longstanding policies and have left public systems and programs ill-equipped to cope with the ongoing impact of the Great Recession and the challenges of a growing population and an ever more competitive global economy.

This fact sheet examines the local impact of reductions to public school general purpose dollars, also known as revenue limit funds, between 2007-08 and 2010-11. Statewide, general purpose funding was cut by $3.6 billion (10.7 percent) during that period, a reduction of $530 per student. This analysis excludes reductions to state spending other than those to general purpose funding. In addition, school districts displayed in this fact sheet exclude those with 1,000 students or less and so-called “basic-aid districts,” which receive all revenue limit funds through local property tax revenue. Lawmakers reduced the annual funding level for K-12 education by $7.0 billion, from $50.3 billion in 2007-08 to $43.4 billion in 2010-11 – a 13.8 percent drop. Lawmakers cut schools’ general purpose dollars as well as funds earmarked for specific school programs, often referred to as categoricals.

Adding to schools’ financial stress, the state also deferred a total of $7.4 billion in payments owed to schools in 2010-11. The delayed payments, most of which were adopted after 2007-08, forced many school districts to borrow and pay interest on loans or make program cuts.

How are schools closing budget gaps caused by state spending cuts? While many school districts have cut back their instructional days and eliminated programs, such as high school class size reduction and summer school, the vast majority have reduced the number of teachers they employ. To close budget gaps, schools often choose to reduce teaching staff because teacher salaries comprise the largest share of school spending. California’s teacher workforce dropped by approximately 32,000 (11 percent) between 2007-08 and 2010-11, while the number of students statewide remained steady.

As a result, class sizes have increased and the already substantial gap between the number of students per teacher in California and the rest of the U.S. is widening. California ranks last in the nation on this measure, with the state’s student-to-teacher ratio more than 50 percent higher than the average for the rest of the U.S.

Governor Brown’s proposed budget would stabilize school funding in 2012-13; however, the proposal assumes voter approval of his tax measure in November. Even if voters approve the proposed measure, state support for K-12 schools would remain substantially below the 2007-08 funding level. If voters reject the tax measure, schools could face billions of dollars of additional reductions. Such cuts would further erode the resources available to support public education, which is critical to the future of California and to Californians' ability to compete in an increasingly global economy.

To read the fact sheet, including a district-by-district estimate of cuts on a per-pupil-per-year basis, click here.

Source:  California Budget Project