Education Tax Initiatives Qualify for Ballot as State Sinks to 35th in Per Pupil Spending

Friday, June 22, 2012
(photo: Luke Thomas, FogCity

California’s K-12 schools used to be among the nation’s best, and best supported, despite a diverse and steadily growing state population. But according to the U.S. Census, the state’s spending per pupil slipped to 35th in the nation in 2009-10 from 23rd two years earlier. The Golden State spending fell to $9,375 per pupil, $1,240 less than the national average.

The District of Columbia ranked No. 1 in the nation, spending $18,667 per pupil, followed by New York ($18,618), New Jersey ($16,841), Alaska ($15,783) and Vermont ($15,274). Nationally, about 91% of funds are spent on instructor salary and benefits, about 8.8% on school administration and the rest on general administration. California was 33rd and 31st in salary and benefits, respectively, 49th in general administration but an impressive 14th in school administration spending.

Those numbers reflect education spending generated by the state, but the census also broke out numbers on total education revenues from all sources. California was 40th  in the nation in that department. State government generated 52.6% of school revenues in 2009-10, above the national average of 43.5%, and the federal government contribution was 15%, higher than the national average of 12.5%. But the fed and state had to be higher because local contributions have been puny since Proposition 13 limited property taxes in 1978. The locals checked in at 32.5%, far below the national average of 44%. 

The census report was released within days of two education tax initiatives qualifying for the November ballot. One measure, proposed by Governor Jerry Brown, couples a sales tax increase with a tax on high earners to fund public schools and community colleges while closing the state’s gaping budget deficit. A rival measure by civil-rights lawyer and political activist Molly Munger would raise taxes on all but the poorest Californians, producing $10 billion a year over 12 years for public schools and early childhood development.

A June 12 Field Poll had Brown’s measure doing well with the public, 52%-35%, and support for Munger’s split 43%-42% against. Draconian education budget cuts are expected if Brown’s initiative loses.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Census Bureau Says California School Spending 35th in US (by Dan Walters, Sacramento Bee)

California Falls to 35th in Nation in Per Pupil Education Spending (by Phillip Reese, Sacramento Bee)

Public Elementary–Secondary Education Finance Data (U.S. Census)

California's Dueling Tax Plans (Los Angeles Times editorial)

California Ranks 23rd in Per-Pupil Spending (Orange County Register, 2007-08 report)

Qualified Statewide Ballot Measures (Secretary of State’s Office)

Leave a comment