In our inaugural episode, Guest Samantha Tran from Children Now, a statewide nonprofit organization, takes us through a study comparing a typical California high school to similar schools in two other states that invest more per student than California. What the study found, she says, was jarring.
Public school students in California don’t have the same types of experiences and opportunities that kids in most other states do.
The typical California school is dramatically understaffed. On average, California has among the worst ratios of adults to students, among the highest class sizes, lowest number of counselors, nurses, social workers – and, Samantha says, that means kids get a lot less opportunities than kids in other state that invest more.
As part of this episode, Samantha also helps us explore how California school funding wound up in this situation, and what it might take to raise up the state’s inadequate investment. We consider an insightful way to measure a state’s overall commitment to education funding -- by a concept economists call “effort” – that is, comparing how much a state spends on schools as a percentage of the personal income earned by state residents.
The Children Now report states that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in the late 1960s Californians as a whole were contributing 4 percent of their personal income to schools; by 2015-16, that had declined to 3.2 percent (among the lowest 10 states), which translates into a difference of $16.6 billion if Californians made a similar effort today as they did decades ago. In addition, if California invested at the national average level of effort, which is 3.7 percent, it would be spending an additional $11 billion per year on its schools. Both Illinois and New Jersey – the two states included in the Children Now research brief -- fund a much higher level of effort, 4.5 and 4.9 percent, respectively. If California spent on K-12 education at a similar level of effort as these two states, it would spend an additional $26.7 billion (Illinois effort) or $37 billion (New Jersey effort).
“There has been a lot of work to improve public schools in California,” Samantha says. “A lot of reforms have occurred. But we have not stepped up on the investment side – and that means we do not have enough adults on campus. We can only push so far without also investing in the resources to help educators be successful and ultimately support student outcomes.”