Funding gaps persist in California school districts

High-poverty school districts in California receive 2 percent less funding per student than more affluent districts when adjusted for student needs, a new report from The Education Trust determined. The discrepancy is part of a national trend of underfunding in large school districts serving large numbers of students of color and students from low-income families. “Across the country, we spend approximately 7 percent — or $1,000 — less per pupil on students educated in our nation’s highest-poverty districts than those educated in the wealthiest,” the report said.

Such funding imbalances are exactly why the California School Boards Association is calling on California’s Legislature to bring the state’s per-pupil funding closer to the national average. With California’s per-student funding currently among the bottom nationally, CSBA’s call for full and fair funding  aims to bring school funding to the national average by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states by 2025. At present, the state’s school districts receive about $12,252. Compared to the 10 states that make the greatest per-pupil investment, California falls behind by $5,000 or more. Similarly, California is ranked 45th for the amount of total taxable resources it spends on education.

The Education Trust report shows another dimension to these spending gaps, particularly when the extra costs of educating and supporting low-income students are included. When supplemental services for low-income students — many of whom need extra resources — are included, California’s highest-poverty districts receive 2 percent less than low-poverty districts. The amount adds up for districts with sizeable numbers of students. Much of this disparity arises from the differing abilities of districts to raise local revenue for education, with higher-poverty districts unable to support schools at the same levels as more affluent ones. While the LCFF has helped to close these gaps through its supplemental and concentration grants for higher need students, additional investments by the state will be needed to fully equalize for these differences and close the gap.

Additionally, funding disparities continue to burden districts serving the most students of color. And these shortfalls continue to perpetuate the achievement gap.

“Multiple studies have shown that economically disadvantaged students who attend well-resourced schools demonstrate greater academic achievement than similar students in schools with fewer resources,” said Manuel Buenrostro, an education policy analyst for CSBA. “Unfortunately, California education funding still does not provide all schools with adequate resources.”

As an added challenge, California has a high number of students in need of additional educational resources. This includes large populations of English learners, those receiving free or reduced-price lunch and homeless students.

“These funding inequities are not new; they have been documented for decades,” said Ary Amerikaner, director of P-12 resource equity for The Education Trust. “The good news, and the reason we believe this analysis is so important now, is that more and more advocates, parents, educators, and district and state leaders are pushing for change.”


Behind the Numbers: The Cold, Hard Facts of California Public School Funding – CSBA

California Education Funding Fact Sheet – CSBA

Funding Inequity in California – The Education Trust

 Funding Gaps 2018 – The Education Trust