Net Per-Pupil Spending in California

The measure that matters.

California will spend more than $16,000 per pupil next school year and the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office reports California’s per-pupil spending ranks in the middle among the states and predicts its ranking likely will increase as new data are released over the next few years.

That’s good news but those are comments about gross dollar measures. What really matters are net dollars — and the news there is not good.

Last school year Fresno Unified School District spent only 42 percent of revenues on salaries for certificated teachers, down from an already-abysmal 47 percent five years earlier. Even though FUSD’s revenues grew 50 percent over that period, spending on teacher salaries grew only two-thirds as much (33 percent). That’s because spending on legacy costs (ie, expenditures related to the past that add no current value) such as pensions and retiree health insurance subsidies grew more than twice as much (113 percent).

And that’s not all. It’s bad enough when teachers struggling with California’s cost of living get only 42 percent of their school district’s revenues. Even worse is when they forego salary increases so their district can pay automatic cost-of-living adjustments to retirees who may not even live in California.

Only 86 percent of gross revenues reached Fresno schools in the 2017-18 school year, down from 91 percent five years before. The gulf between gross and net dollars is growing at school districts all around the state. Absent reductions to legacy costs, that gulf will grow.


Originally appeared on Medium, 7/30/18.