Soapbox

State’s schools are still underfunded

Franklin Pham studies at Winston Churchill Middle School in Carmichael on Feb. 10. The California School Boards Association is lobbying for more funding for California’s public schools.
Franklin Pham studies at Winston Churchill Middle School in Carmichael on Feb. 10. The California School Boards Association is lobbying for more funding for California’s public schools. rbenton@sacbee.com

A recent report released by the California School Boards Association and its Education Legal Alliance found that California is underfunding K-12 schools by as much as $42 billion annually. The study looks at state funding levels and what it would actually take for all students to meet state standards and be prepared for college and career upon high school graduation.

By nearly every measure – funding, staffing or infrastructure – we’re lagging behind other states and countries. And expectations and challenges for California schools are only increasing. They include implementing the Common Core curriculum and Local Control Funding Formula, closing achievement gaps and preparing students for college.

What exactly is California’s status? In 2015, Education Week’s Quality Counts report, a respected ranking that accounts for regional living costs and poverty rates, ranked California 46th nationally with per-student spending of $8,213 – far below the national average of $11,667.

That ranking was based on 2013 figures. Increases in funding proposed under the Local Control Funding Formula would raise per-pupil spending to a projected $10,591 for 2016-17, still far less than the national average.

Further, California schools rank 49th nationally in student-teacher ratio with an average of 21.2 pupils per teacher, compared to the national average of 15.4. California would need to hire 110,000 more teachers to close this gap.

Additional funding has been dedicated to K-12 schools in the past few years, including Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2016-17 state budget, but our schools still rank at or well below the national average.

Just like one or two El Niño storms aren’t going to solve our drought, one or two good state budget years haven’t eliminated the chronic underfunding of California’s classrooms.

Adequate funding translates into student success. A quality K-12 education provides students with teachers, curriculum, instructional support, materials, and related academic experiences that prepare them for college or career. This is more likely to result in living-wage jobs, lower unemployment rates, lower welfare rates, reduced probability of incarceration, greater competitiveness in the 21st-century economy and better lives.

We must jump-start a discussion among elected officials, the public and the media about devoting the resources necessary to ensure success for all California students. Eliminating this competitive disadvantage and expecting better for California’s students must be a priority.

Chris Ungar is president of the California School Boards Association. He can be contacted at sayitok@aol.com.

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