Report Claims California Has Under-Funded Schools by $22 Billion

Ed tech is one of several key areas of state education that have suffered from under-funding.

by Kristen Taketa The San Diego Union-Tribune / September 20, 2018
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(TNS) — A major research project released this week claims California has under-funded its schools by $22 billion, many California students are entering school already behind in learning and California schools don’t have nearly enough teachers, counselors and other personnel.

The project, called Getting Down to Facts II, includes three dozen reports and 19 briefs that provide a comprehensive look at California’s education system as the state prepares to choose a new governor, state superintendent and legislators.

The San Diego Union-Tribune spoke with Jennifer Imazeki of San Diego State University, the only local researcher who wrote for the project. Imazeki wrote a report and co-wrote a research brief about school funding. She also co-wrote the summary report for the whole project.

Imazeki and other researchers found that, even though California’s school funding levels have been increasing, they have still been consistently below the national average. School districts with high numbers of disadvantaged students especially suffer wide funding gaps, Imazeki said.

Researchers said that California needed to spend $91.8 billion of operational funds on education in 2016-2017 in order for all students to have the chance to meet education goals set by the state. California spent $69.7 billion, a 32 percent difference. Just 3 percent of California students attended school in a district that was spending enough money on education, which researchers estimated to be $16,800 per student.

Researchers suggested that more funds need to go toward adding more teachers to reduce class sizes and improve special education, expanding programs that can especially help disadvantaged students such as preschool and summer programs, hiring more support staff such as guidance counselors, school psychologists and social workers and growing the length of time students spend in school by extending the school day and school year.

“We’ve had increases in funding, but we’re a high-cost state, so comparisons to other states can be kind of tricky because other states don’t have the cost of living that we have,” Imazeki said. “We still need more. We really do.”

Here’s what Imazeki had to say about the research project:

What can be done to improve school funding?

“California is different than a lot of other states. In most states, the majority of funding comes from local districts… through property taxes. In most other states, local districts can choose to raise additional revenue for their schools by taxing themselves more. We don’t have that option in California because of Prop 13. My paper talks about what some of the alternatives are. We already have parcel taxes. Other states also have local taxes, like sales or even income taxes at the local level. One of the options that is sort of perennially floated is making adjustments to Prop 13, having what is called ‘split roll’ so businesses can be reassessed more often.”

What did you find interesting or surprising about the project?

“There have been huge changes in California’s K-12 education system over the last decade. The overhaul of the school finance was huge, but that was accompanied by new standards — Common Core — and it was accompanied by a new accountability system. I think there were a few things that I think were important and, I will say, a little surprising to me. One was the amount of support that was found for these changes. Some of the authors did surveys where they talked to superintendents, principals and stakeholders across the board and a lot of folks think these changes have been for the better. The concerns that were raised tended to be about, people feel like they didn’t know how to take full advantage of the opportunities that the reforms allowed.

“One concern I have personally is, you got a new governor, new superintendent, new legislators coming in. There are still big achievement gaps. I think it’s just important for folks coming in to recognize that there have been improvements, and no, we may not be where we want to be yet, but rather than trying to go at it in a totally different direction, we need to make sure to take advantage fully of what we’ve already done. Early childhood is a big one — we haven’t really done anything to reform or support early childhood. Special education was also not included in the overhaul of the school finance system. We have higher student-teacher ratios than other states. We don’t have counselors. We don’t have nurses. There aren’t as many adults in our schools as in other states.”

What does this report mean for San Diego?

”I’m not actually an expert in San Diego schools. I haven’t looked at the specific data from the adequacy study for San Diego. I will say that San Diego Unified is the second largest K-12 district in the state, and I think San Diego sometimes gets overlooked compared to Los Angeles. But I do think that we have a lot of the concerns and problems with high-risk populations. All of the achievement gap concerns, I think, are really salient, at least for the city of San Diego, because we have a lot of students that fall into those high-risk populations.”

Is there anything that you think has been overlooked in other media reports about the project?

“I don’t want to use hyperbole, but the pressure — I won’t say crisis — the pressure created by the pension problem is only getting bigger. And I think it’s partly problematic because it’s not something that I think most people who got directly involved with schools are necessarily thinking about. It’s basically like having credit card debt. If you never pay off the balance, it just keeps getting bigger. We’ve been under-funding it for so long that simply paying off the obligations we currently have is going to start, if it already hasn’t started encroaching on money going into the classroom. In my mind, that’s the most important, from a finance perspective, the most important thing going on.”

©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.