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Estimated education expenditures per student by state from 1970 – 2012. California ranks near the bottom in K-12 education expenditures by state. Figure adapted from EdSource "States in Motion" interactive graphs edsource.org/states-in-motion view #7

Plumas student spending above state average

Plumas Unified School District board member Dwight Pierson recently came back from the annual California School Boards Association meeting in San Francisco with information he shared with the rest of the school board.

State funding

Pierson reported that California ranked 40 out of 50 states in spending per K-12 student per year. The National Education Association (NEA) estimated for 2015 that Vermont spent $28,000 per student, the national average was $12,600 per student and California spent on average $10,600 per student.

  NEA figures reveal that part of the reason for California’s poor funding for K-12 schools is that California schools receive less money from local governments, from property taxes, etc, than do most states. As a consequence, state government has to pay a larger percentage of K-12 costs.

Changes in state revenues therefore affect funding for education to a greater extent than in most other states, which may be inherently less stable than a greater reliance on property taxes, etc.

Apparently, most California residents assume that because California is a relatively rich state, California schools are funded above average for the United States.According to a 2012 survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 52 percent of Californians believe that per-pupil spending in California is average or near the top as compared to other states. Only a third of citizens thought California was below average or near the bottom as compared with other states.

Pierson reported that if California spent the average amount that states spend per student, there would be an additional $15 billion to spend on K-12 education in California.

The Department of Education reported that Plumas Unified School District spent $12,900 per student in 2015, which was $2,000 higher than was the average for California school districts.

Charter Schools

Pierson reported from the conference that approximately 9 percent of students in California attend charter schools, which is a 33 percent increase in attendance in the last six years.

Pierson reported that charter schools are not outperforming regular schools and many are underperforming in mathematics.

A 2014 study of charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University painted a mixed picture, with some charter schools doing very well and others doing poorly.

The study reported that just under a third of California charter schools outpace traditional public schools in reading, and mathematics (+32 percent and +29 percent, respectively).

On the other hand, approximately a third of charter schools in California underperform traditional public schools in reading and mathematics (-21 percent and -37 percent, respectively).

Therefore, it seems to depend on the individual school.

Location might be a factor. The Stanford report found that charter schools in their study tended to perform better in cities and suburbs and less well in towns and rural settings.

“Rural charter schools lagged traditional public school students in rural areas by the equivalent of 29 days of learning in reading and 101 learning days in math” than in traditional public schools. Charter schools versus traditional public schools in towns had similar results.

However, this does not mean that all rural and small town charter schools are doing poorly. It has to be kept in mind that these are only averages.

On average, the report found that chains of charter schools (charter management organizations; e.g.Aspire Public Schools) tended to do better than non-chain charter schools.

The Stanford study also noted that charter schools in California are improving with time. Charter school deficits in mathematics versus traditional  public schools, were reduced significantly from 2001 to 2013. Charter school gains in reading increased over the same time period.

In addition, students’ scores tended to increase the longer a student attended a charter school.

A future article will attempt to compare how outcomes from one of the local charter schools, Plumas Charter School, compares with outcomes for the traditional school system, Plumas Unified School District, based on California Department of Education data.

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