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Public education in California

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K-12 Education in California
State Superintendent: Tom Torlakson
Number of students: 6,287,834[1]
Number of teachers: 268,689
Teacher/pupil ratio: 1:23.4
Number of school districts: 1,187
Number of schools: 10,170
Graduation rate: 78%[2]
Per-pupil spending: $9,139[3]
See also
Public education in California
California Department of Education
California school districts
List of school districts in California
The California school system (prekindergarten-grade 12) operates within districts governed by locally elected school boards members and superintendents.

The California state constitution requires that the state offer not only a free public school system but also provide a "a general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people."[4]

School revenues, expenditures and budget

See also: California state budget
California's education costs are about 1/3 of the state budget

The state of California had a $134.7 billion budget for 2009-2010, according to the proposed budget. Education accounted for approximately $40.7 billion or 30.2 percent of the total budget. However, those budget figures did not include federal funds, some non-governmental cost funds or reimbursements.[5]

The cost per pupil is $9,863, ranking 23rd in the nation according the U.S. Census Bureau 2007-2008 report.[6]

In 2010, the state was forced to delay $2.9 billion in payments to California school districts in order to fund pension plans and state debt.[7]

Impact of budget woes

  • On July 1, 2009, officials announced that the state's budget crisis had forced the state to eliminate summer school for 2009. The announcement was parallel to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's declaration of a fiscal state of emergency.[8]
  • In early July 2009 a plan to help reduce the budget crisis included a 20 percent cut to school transportation, bringing the total cost of transportation to $496 million. Originally, the governor recommended a cut of $315 million.[9]
  • According to reports, in August 2009, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that they planned to raise property taxes for L.A. homeowners in light of declining tax revenues. The rate was $123 per $100,000 of assessed value. Officials said that they expect rates to rise about $200 by 2012. The generated funds would be used to pay school bonds and add to the construction fund. Additionally, because the district could not use new local bonds, they were considering a parcel tax.[10]
  • In 2009 the Los Angeles School District laid off a total of about 2,000 teachers and 750 other employees.[10]
  • Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School had not had a permanent home in the past five years as of 2009. In fall 2009 it was scheduled to move to a permanent $25 million facility, but this was put on hold because of financial reasons.[10]
  • In 2010, California schools were selling and re-leasing 11 buildings in order to generate $2.3 billion in cash, though the long terms costs of the lease were expected to cost the state $6 billion.[11]
  • Funding from Prop 98 declined in 2010 by $6.9 billion.[12]

Possible cost saving solutions

  • As of 2010, increasing class sizes to 24 students was projected to save $6.8 billion.[13]
  • Over 40 categorical programs could be deregulated and save $4.5 billion.
  • The LAO identified 18 categorical programs that could be deregulated and save $7.4 billion.

School construction

A Los Angeles Unified School District spent $578 million on a new school.[14] The new school has fine art, public park and a state-of-the-art swimming pool. Two other schools in the LA school district were opened since 2008, costing $377 million and $232 million.[15] The total cost was $1.187 billion.

Personnel salaries

The LA Times and the Hechinger Report evaluated teacher performance in the school district in 2010.[16] The report went against conventional wisdom and reported that teachers with advanced degrees and many years in the classroom were just as effective as new teachers with undergraduate degrees.[17] The report suggested a new standard for evaluating teachers and the success of merit pay systems.[17] The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, endorsed the LA Times report, one of the first to release information based on teacher performance.[18] But the United Teachers Los Angeles president, A.J. Duffy, asked teachers and other labor unions to boycott The Times as a result of the project.[19]

  • The Rand Corporation compiled data on teacher salaries for every district that can be searched here. The Sacramento Bee has also compiled data, through 2007-08, into a searchable format that can be found here.
  • On July 1, 2009 United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested linking teacher salaries to student performance.[20]

Textbook costs

In an effort to reduce the state's $24 billion budget gap in 2009, Gov. Schwarzenegger announced that by fall 2010 he intended to make free, open-source digital textbooks available for high school math and science classes. At the time, the state of California spent a total of $350 million on instructional material (i.e., text books, handouts, etc.).

Proponents of Schwarzenegger's proposal argued that as information changes so can the material that is used in schools, unlike using out-of-date textbooks until you have the funds to order new ones. Digital material would still have to be approved by the state education officials but unlike traditional textbooks, which are on a 6 year cycle between approval checks, digital material can be checked easier and faster.

However, opponents argued that although it is a nice idea, the problem still remains of students that are unable to afford a home computer. In order to make the program a success, opponents claimed that the state of California would have to find a reliable source of revenue to cover the costs of ensuring that there is a sufficient number of computers available.[21]

Role of unions

  • In July 2009, United States Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association to stop resisting linking teacher pay with student performance. "It's not enough to focus only on issues like job security, tenure, compensation, and evaluation," he said. "You must become full partners and leaders in education reform. You must be willing to change."[20]
  • In June 2009, the California Teachers Association announced that they could not support Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan for digital textbooks in 2010. "It's a nice idea, but it's not going to work," said David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association. "Where are you going to get a computer for everybody? How many of these kids actually have computers at home?" Instead, Sanchez said that he would like to see the governor's proposal for increasing funds for education. The union suggested increasing tax revenues to directly support schools.[21]
  • Other California unions include: California Federation of Teachers

Role of school boards

The State Board of Education is the governing and policy-making body of the California public schools. The board addresses and sets policy regarding standards, instructional materials and accountability. The state board is comprised of a total of 11 members, all of whom are appointed by the governor.[22]

Each public school district is governed by a specific school board and a superintendent. The superintendent may be elected at each gubernatorial election or may be appointed by the county board of education by a majority vote.[23]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying

See also: California government sector lobbying

Taxpayer-funded lobbyists for state public schools include:


See also: Evaluation of California school district websites

In 2008, the governor launched School Finder, a website that provides access to data reported by California’s schools to the California Department of Education. Data available on the website covers state elementary through high schools and includes traditional, alternative, adult education and charter schools. “This vital information, compiled in one easy-to-navigate site, will increase school accountability and transparency, and put power back into the hands of California parents. The facts of achievement for every school in California are now easily accessible – not buried in bureaucracy,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger about the launch.[24]


A 2009 study, Leaders and Laggards, conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for a Competitive Workplace, Frederick M. Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and the Center for American Progress, gave California: "F" in academic achievement; "B" in truth in advertising about student proficiency; "A" in rigor of standards; "B" in post-secondary and workforce readiness; "A" in for its teacher workforce policies; "D" in data quality.[25]

Academic performance

Public schools

Since 2006, high school students have been required to pass the high school exit exam. In June 2009, however, California lawmakers called for the suspension of the requirement. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said that with the state's budget crisis and cuts the state could not expect students to perform as well as they did before the budget cuts. Under the proposal students would still take the exam, once, but it would not be a graduation requirement. Opponents argued that the proposal would cause the program to lose momentum in the schools and students would lose the motivation to perform well in school in order to receive their high school diplomas.

For the Class of 2008, results showed that 90.2 percent passed the exam in time for graduation. Additionally, results revealed that 80.1 percent of African-American students, 72.8 percent of English-language learners and 53.8 percent of special education students passed the exam.[26]

However, in 2010 only half of California students tested proficient in math or science.[27] According to the report:

Statewide, 52 percent of students in grades 2 through 11 tested proficient or advanced in English and 48 percent met those goals in math in the 2010 Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, programs.[28]

A later report showed a 37 percent dropout rate for African American students in 2009, and a 27 percent dropout rate for Hispanic students.[29]

Charter schools

A report by the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes revealed in June 2009 that charter schools had mixed results.[30] Charter schools surpass public schools in reading but fall behind in math.[31] In light of low-performance reports, the California Charter Schools Association proposed establishing a new evaluation system for charter schools and closing the lowest-performing 1 percent of the state's charter schools in 2010. "We have, clearly, some of the most successful schools in the nation that are charter schools in Los Angeles and California," Jed Wallace, the associations chief executive officer, said, "but we also have some that are not measuring up."[32]

School choice

School choice options include:

  • Charter schools:California has more than 700 charter schools, the most of any state. Nationwide there are approximately 4,000 charter schools.[31] In order to start a charter school, school organizers must first seek approval from a local school district, but they can appeal a denial to the county office of education and then to the state.[30]
    • Green Dot Public Schools: A group of 17 charter schools in the Los Angeles region, operated by a non-profit organization. Green Dot receives about $8,400 per high school student from the state. Washington, D.C., for example receives $10,376 per high school student. Green Dot was founded in 1999. The organization was developed, particularly, in response to the Los Angeles area's failing schools.[33]
  • Public school choice: According to the California Department of Education, beginning in 2002-03, students attending a Title I-funded school that is identified for program improvement, corrective action, or restructuring is given the option of school choice. In other words, students can transfer to an alternative public or charter school that is not currently under improvement, corrective action or restructuring. Should the student's original school move out of the improvement category, that students still has the option to stay at the school he transferred to.[34]
  • Unsafe school choice: If a school is determined to be "unsafe" because it is "persistently dangerous" or a student becomes the victim of a crime a student is allowed to transfer to another public school.[35]
  • Supplemental educational services: If a low-income student attends a school that has been categorized as Title 1 school for 3 or more years, the government will provide supplemental educational services. Services include tutoring, remediation and academic intervention.[36]

State Budget Solutions study

State Budget Solutions examined national trends in education from 2009-2011, including state-by-state analysis of education spending, graduation rates, and average ACT scores. The study shows that states that spend the most do not have the highest average ACT test scores, nor do they have the highest average graduation rates. A summary of the study is available here. Download the full report here.

State spending on education vs. academic performance 2012

State 2011 Total Spending[37] 2011 Education Spending[38] 2011 Percent Education Spending 2012 Total Spending[39] 2012 Education Spending[40] 2012 Percent Education Spending 2010 Avg. ACT score[41] 2011 Avg. ACT score[42] 2012 Avg. ACT score[43] 2010 Graduation Rate[44] 2011 Graduation Rate[45]
California $422.1 billion $106.0 billion 25.1% $422.1 billion $108.3 billion 25.6% 22.2 22.1 22.1 70.7% 71.2%

External links

Additional reading


  1. National Center for Education Statistics, "Table 2. Number of operating public schools and districts, state enrollment, teacher and pupil/teacher ratio by state: School year 2011–12," accessed March 18, 2014
  2. ED Data Express, "State Tables Report," accessed March 17, 2014 The site includes this disclaimer: "States converted to an adjusted cohort graduation rate [starting in the 2010-2011 school year], which may or may not be the same as the calculation they used in prior years. Due to the potential differences, caution should be used when comparing graduation rates across states."
  3. United States Census Bureau, "Public Education Finances: 2011," accessed March 18, 2014
  4. California Constitution "Article 9, Section 1," accessed July 3, 2009
  5. California Budget "Education (K-12)," accessed July 2, 2009
  6. Maine Watchdog Education Spending Per Child, July 6, 2010
  7. LA Times California to delay payments to schools, counties a month sooner than expected, Aug. 23, 2010
  8. The New York Times "Facing Deficits, Some States Cut Summer School," July 1, 2009
  9. The Sacramento Bee "California budget cuts target school bus service," July 5, 2009
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Los Angeles Times "Los Angeles school district will sharply raise taxes on property owners," August 15, 2009
  11. Cal Watch LAO Schools DGS On Sale-Leaseback, Nov. 11, 2010
  12. California Watch Schools take biggest hit in budget wars, Dec. 8, 2010
  13. Cal Watchdog NEW: School Cuts Would Mostly Target Fluff, Dec. 17, 2010
  14. New Mexico Watchdog What the #!@& is going on with public school construction?, Aug. 22, 2010
  15. Cal Watchdog NEW: $578 million L.A. school, Aug. 23, 2010
  16. LA Times About grading teachers, Aug. 15, 2010
  17. 17.0 17.1 How Effective Are Los Angeles Elementary Teachers and Schools?, Richard Buddin
  18. LA Times U.S. schools chief endorses release of teacher data, Aug. 16, 2010
  19. LA Times What effective teachers can do, Aug. 17, 2010
  20. 20.0 20.1 Associated Pres "Education Secretary Challenges NEA On Teacher Pay," July 2, 2009
  21. 21.0 21.1 Christian Science Monitor "Schwarzenegger leads push for digital textbooks," June 30, 2009
  22. California State Board of Education "State Board of Education," accessed July 2, 2009
  23. California Constitution "Article 9, Section 3," accessed July 3, 2009
  24. State of California "Governor Schwarzenegger Launches “School Finder” Web Site for California Parents and Children," July 16, 2008
  25. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute "California Education Report Card," retrieved November 16, 2009
  26. San Jose Mercury News "Suspend California's high school exit exam, Democrats propose," June 19, 2009
  27. The Oakland Tribune Only about half of California pupils test proficient in math or English, Aug. 16, 2010
  28. Cal Watch Half of Cal kids flunk, Aug. 2010
  29. San Francisco Chronicle Dropout rate for Calif. black students hits 37%, Dec. 8, 2010
  30. 30.0 30.1 The Press-Enterprise "Study: Charter school performance mixed," June 15, 2009
  31. 31.0 31.1 Los Angeles Times "California charter schools stronger in reading than math," June 15, 2009
  32. The Los Angeles Times "Low-performing charter schools in California could close under plan," June 18, 2009
  33. The Washington Post "L.A. Group In Talks to Run D.C. High School," July 2, 2009
  34. California Department of Education "Title I, Part A School Choice," accessed July 3, 2009
  35. U.S. Department of Education "Unsafe school choice," February 2003
  36. U.S. Department of Education "Supplemental education services," February 2003
  37. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  38. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  39. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Total Spending" Aug. 4, 2012
  40. "Alabama Government Spending Chart - Education Spending"Aug. 4, 2012
  41. 2010 ACT National and State Scores "Average Scores by State"
  42. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  43. [ 2011 ACT National and State Scores " Average Scores by State"]
  44. National Center for Education Statistics
  45. National Center for Education Statistics