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California is the fifth largest economy in the world and the wealthiest state in the nation. The Golden State is home to countless tech giants, an enormous entertainment industry, major agricultural regions, and many other successful industries. California households earn a median income of $71,000 per year, more than $10,000 above the national average. However, California school funding—even before COVID-19—was insufficient to meet educational goals and address the needs of students, particularly given the state’s high cost of living. How can that be true?

A Summary Brief
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California and the rest of the country are enduring a pandemic-induced economic recession, and school and district leaders are bracing for the fallout. Funding for California schools had improved rapidly between 2013 and 2019, with districts spending roughly $13,100 per pupil in 2018–19 as compared with $9,680 only 6 years earlier. However, that level of funding still fell short of what would have been adequate given California’s goals as a state, the student population it serves, and its cost of living.

Views from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier Poll
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With important state and national elections looming, where do California voters stand on some of the major education policy issues of the day? This report examines findings from the 2020 PACE/USC Rossier poll of California voters. The poll represents the views of 2,000 registered California voters across a range of topics from early childhood education to higher education. Based on these results, we have identified five key findings:

The Implications of Marin’s Rising Pension Costs and Tax Revolt for Increasing Education Funding
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Voters in Marin County have long been willing to pass parcel taxes to fund their schools. In 2016, taxes faced unprecedented opposition from local activists; taxes in Kentfield and Mill Valley were defeated or passed by previously unheard-of narrow margins, respectively. What changed? This case study uses district financial and demographic data as well as interviews and focus groups with advocates and education leaders to answer this question. It was clear that:
  • The current financial situation is not sustainable.
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Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD), California’s thirteenth largest school district, faces a looming deficit and must make significant budget adjustments to avoid state intervention. This case study explores how the district reached this point, how its finances compare with other districts in Sacramento County, and what the implications are for students, particularly those with the greatest needs.
Evidence from California
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Charter schools enroll a growing share of public school students, leading to concerns about the financial implications of charter schools for traditional public schools. Using detailed expenditure data for school districts in California, this paper exploits variation in charter school enrollment across time and between districts to evaluate how district spending and overall financial health change as nearby charter sectors expand.
Evidence to Inform Policy
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Governor Newsom’s first Budget Proposal increases funding for education in California. There are areas of substantive overlap in the Budget Proposal and research findings from the Getting Down to Facts II (GDTFII) research project, released in September 2018, which built an evidence base on the current status of California education and implications for paths forward.

What Do We Know?
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The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on July 1, 2013, represents the first comprehensive change in the state’s education funding system in 40 years. The LCFF eliminates nearly all categorical funding streams, shifts control of most education dollars from the state to local school districts, and empowers districts, through a process of stakeholder engagement, to shape resource allocation goals and priorities to meet local needs.