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CSBA Report Suggests California Schools Underfunded by as Much as $22 to $42 Billion

February 8, 2016

California is underfunding K-12 schools by as much as $42 billion annually according to a new report released on January 20 by the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and its Education Legal Alliance. The study, “California’s Challenge–Adequately Funding Education in the 21st Century” looks at current state funding levels and what it would actually take for all students to meet California State Standards and be prepared for college and career upon high school graduation.

“There is a direct correlation between what we invest in our schools and our schools’ ability to prepare the next generation for college, career and civic life. Right now, our school finance system places our children at a huge competitive disadvantage,” explained CSBA President Chris Ungar who is also a school board member in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in San Luis Obispo County. “By nearly every measure, be it funding, staffing, or infrastructure, we’re lagging behind other states and countries in terms of the support we provide our students. We need to jumpstart a discussion among elected officials and the public about once and for all devoting the resources necessary to ensure the success of all California students.”

This report builds on prior research by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the American Institute for Research (AIR) which estimated how much additional money the state would need in order to move schools to the state achievement goal of preparing all students for college and career success. Those studies were conducted in 2007 as part of the larger “Getting Down to Facts” report commissioned by the governor, state legislative leaders and education officials and overseen by Stanford University.

The PPIC study estimated in 2007 it would take an additional $17 billion (in 2004 dollars) to move all schools to a score of 800 on the Academic Performance Index (API). The AIR research concluded that California would have to spend an additional $24 – $32 billion (in 2004–05 dollars) to move all schools to the achievement targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

The new CSBA report built upon the two earlier studies and described what every student needs for a well-rounded 21st Century education and college and career readiness.

Despite recent school funding increases from Proposition 30 and an improved state budget, when the PPIC and AIR numbers were updated by CSBA, including accounting for annual Cost-of-Living-Adjustments, the gap between actual funding and what is needed to fully fund education has grown to between $22 and $42 billion.

Vernon Billy, CSBA CEO & Executive Director said: “California is one of America’s most prosperous places, yet if you look at what we spend on schools, you’d assume we are one of the country’s poorest states. Even with an improving economy, we’ve dramatically underinvested in education – and that puts our students, our communities and our competitiveness at risk. California must provide all students with the resources needed to meet the rigorous standards and expectations established by the state.”

California Behind the Rest of the Nation

Education Week's Quality Counts report, a respected ranking system that accounts for regional living costs and poverty rates, in January 2015 ranked California at 46th among the states with per-student spending of $8,213 in 2013, far below the national average of $11,667. (Recent increases in funding proposed under California’s Local Control Funding Formula would raise per-pupil spending to a projected $10,591, a figure well beneath the national average and one which places California in the bottom quartile of all states in terms of funding public education.)

California schools rank 49th nationally in student-teacher ratio. California has an average of 21.2 pupils per teacher, compared to the national average of 15.4 to one pupil.  California would need to hire an additional 110,000 teachers to close this gap. California also ranks at or near the bottom in all other major staffing categories including instructional aides per student, guidance counselors and librarians.

“When people sometimes ask, ‘Where are the adults in the room?’ the fact is that, in California, we can’t afford them. And yet we know that professional, caring staff who build strong relationships with students are essential to helping those students succeed,” said Ungar.

Even with the improving economy and additional funding that has been dedicated to K-12 schools in the past few years, including in Governor Brown’s proposed 2016–2017 state budget, California’s K-12 schools still rank at or well below the national average despite California’s status as one of the most prosperous states.

“Just like one or two of El Niño storms isn’t going to solve our drought, one or two good state budget years haven’t eliminated the larger, chronic underfunding of California’s classrooms, especially since schools have increased demands being placed on them,” said Billy.

Expectations and Challenges for California Schools Increasing

California schools are facing a much higher bar for preparing students and additional funding challenges, including:

  1. Common Core: California State Standards focus on moving all students to be ready for college and career when they graduate from high school. In the short term, these higher costs will be for instructional materials, professional development and improved technology. In the longer term, it likely means additional early learning and preschool supports, and then more instructional time, smaller class sizes – especially in elementary grades – more support services and higher quality instruction supported by greater planning/collaboration time and professional development.
  2. Proficiency Gaps: Results from tests of high school students in 2014 show a low rate of students meeting or exceeding standards in English language arts (44%) and mathematics (31%).
  3. Closing the Achievement Gap: The test results also show a significant gap between the success of white students and students who are African American or Latino, and between low-income and non-low-income students. Similarly, high school graduation rates differ significantly between white students and African American and Latino students. Notably, California has the highest percentage of English learners and low income students in the country, as well as a higher poverty rate than any other state.
  4. College Readiness: Studies also show a high need for college remediation at CSU, UC, and California Community College campuses. For example, at CSU campuses, only 59 percent of admitted freshmen were prepared for both college-level English and math in the fall of 2014. For African American students, only 38 percent were prepared in both subjects, and for Latino students, only 48 percent were prepared.
  5. Local Control Funding Formula: LCFF requires districts to meet multiple state priorities in addition to ensuring student proficiency in Math and English. Under, LCFF Districts must identify matrices, set goals, and align budget investments to satisfy eight state priorities that include more than twenty specific matrices. These additional priorities will require additional programs and inputs from schools.
  6. Additional fiscal pressures: Increased requirements by the state for school employers to cover pension costs; and potential requirements from the state for schools to take on a bigger share of construction and modernization costs.
  7. Technology Costs: The costs of purchasing, training, maintaining and constantly updating classroom technology.
  8. Special ducation Costs: According to a 2012 study, special education costs for a typical district grew to 32.1% of the general fund from 21.9% of the local general fund in 2002–03.

Adequate Funding Translates Into Student Success

A quality K-12 education provides students with teachers, curriculum, instructional support, materials, and related academic experiences that prepare them for higher education or career pathways. This is more likely to result in living wage jobs, lower unemployment rates, lower participation rates in welfare and other government support programs, reduced probability of incarceration, greater competitiveness in the 21st Century economy and better life outcomes.

The study was commissioned by CSBA and authored by the Education Legal Alliance. A 34-member committee of elected school board members, district and county superintendents, and fiscal and education specialists was established by the ELA to provide input and help prepare the report. The committee was chaired by Jesús Holguín, Moreno Valley USD School Board Member and CSBA Immediate Past President.

Source:  California School Boards Association

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