About Dana Dooley

Dana Dooley teaches high school AP Government, Government & Economics, and Yearbook near Sacramento, Calif. As a former journalist and graduate student, Dooley is a super policy nerd and fascinated with political theory. She's won some teacher awards, and she loves her students immensely as family.
CA Dept of Education Seal

CA Dept of Education Seal

At a time when state governments seem to be at odds with the public school system—take Wisconsin’s anti-teacher-union fiasco in 2012, for example—it’s refreshing to see an in increase in education spending in California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2014-15 budget, released Jan. 9.

The proposal would increase education spending by $6.3 billion over last fiscal year, taking total state education funding to approximately $61.6 billion, out of the total $155-billion budget. This money applies to K-12, as well as the community college, Cal State University (CSU), and University of California (UC) systems.

At the K-12 level, California serves over six million students across 10,000 schools. The proposed budget breaks down to $12,833 spending per pupil, up almost $1,000 from the previous year’s per-pupil spending of $11,985 (see figure, below). Yet, California still lags behind other states in per-pupil spending: in 2011, the top spenders were New York ($19,076), the District of Columbia ($18,475), Alaska ($16,674), New Jersey ($15,968) and Vermont ($15,925), according to the US Census Bureau. Still, this puts California above the national average of $10,560 per student.


figures from the proposed CA budget

figures from the proposed CA budget

 Last year’s budget set aside $1.25 billion to implement the new Common Core standards, used for professional development, instructional materials, and technology. This year’s proposed budget would still allocate $46.5 million toward Common Core, but now for the purpose of implementing the new assessment system, Smarter Balanced. The text of the budget explains that “additional assessments will be included and developed using computer-based testing, whenever feasible, to assess the full breadth and depth of the curriculum.”

The budget also celebrates the flexibility of education spending, stating that, “Local school districts are now empowered to decide the best way to target funds.” Yet, in exchange for that flexibility, “districts are required to increase or improve services for English learner, low-income, and foster youth students.” The budget does not explain what these constraints look like, only noting that there would be put in place “locally developed and adopted local control and accountability plans.”

While the budget lacks exact details in certain places, it is still a meaningful commentary on the valuing of education by the state. As a classroom teacher, I feel like my profession is taken seriously by state politicians, and that there will be funds to help support the learning taking place in my classroom.

Still, the proposed budget could simply be political pandering and obligation. Jerry Brown is expected to run for re-election this November, and a popular budget that seeks to “maximize student achievement, and strengthen the foundation for sustainable economic growth” is just the thing to aid in keeping his seat as Governor.

Furthermore, state education spending is largely set by mandated increases via Proposition 98, approved by voters in 1988. It required education to account for 39 percent of the state budget in 1988-89 – and this year’s proposed budget for 2014-15 sets education at just shy of 40 percent. Not too impressive of an increase. But I suppose it’s a start, considering we are still coming out of an economic recession.

The next step is for the budget to get approved by the State Assembly and Senate. It will be interesting to see what—if any—action is taken to alter education spending before the official budget is approved.

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