Accelify Blog

No Relief Seen for Public School Funding (CA)

May 10, 2010

The best news California public schools can expect from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision is no midyear cuts, a state education expert said Thursday.

Ron Bennett, president School Services, Inc., a business, management and advocacy company for California public schools, said a poor April revenue forecast wiped out four months of better-than-expected income for the state.

The result leaves local educational agencies (LEAs) hoping for no midyear budget reductions, at best.

Addressing a regional gathering of the Association of California School Administrators, Bennett said the state expected to receive $10.2 billion in revenues in April, but received only $7.2 billion.

“A good May revision will be no more cuts,” Bennett said.

Despite promising economic signs earlier this year, California public schools still can expect the hard times to continue, he said.

It’s not all bad news, though.

Bennett said if California’s public education system was a corporation, it would be a high value company because it is doing a lot with very little.

Because California ranks in the bottom half of the nation’s

50 states in per-student spending, its public education system is producing low-cost, high-quality products (high school graduates).

Depending on which source is cited, California ranks either in the middle of the pack (26th) or near the bottom (47th) in per-pupil funding. The National Education Association ranks the state 26th in its latest estimate, while Education Week, a national publication, ranks the state 47th. The difference in the numbers is because Education Week applies a geographic adjustment index that drops California from the middle to the bottom of the pack.

“We’re doing far better with the dollars we do have than what we should be doing,” he said.

Bennett said none of the regional school districts are desperate enough to be on the list for state emergency loans, as some districts are. Regionally, King City Joint Union High School District has $5 million in state loan funding.

The decline in the amount of money public schools spend on each student can be traced back to 1979 and the passage of Proposition 13, Bennett said.

Prior to that legislation, California was consistently in the top five i n the country in per-student spending. After passage of the bill, the state fell into the bottom 30 in that category.

While Prop 13 is cited for the decline in public school funding, changing the popular legislation has proven nearly impossible, Bennett said.

“We get the education system the voters want to have,” he explained. “We have to take more responsibility in what we’re voting for.”

Bennett said that only 24 percent of California voters have children in public schools, meaning they can have little impact on how schools are funded.

Sixty percent of public school funding comes from state sales and income tax, while 40 percent comes from local property taxes. Bennett said the volatility of sales and income taxes, both hit hard in the recent recession, have hammered public school funding.

Parcel taxes have become creative ways for communities to supplement public school funding. All of the tax money remains in the school district.

While many attempts around the state have been rejected by voters, Bennett told the group all four parcel taxes on the recent ballot in San Mateo County passed, and there were other successes around the state, as well.

Until the state’s economy improves, Bennett said public schools only can do their best to provide quality education for their students.

He said the recession might provide opportunities for education beyond kindergarten through 12th grades. Adult and career educational programs will probably increase.

“If you grew up in a recession or depression, should you be handicapped for life?” he asked.