Dan Walters

Dan Walters
June 7, 2015

  • California schools enjoy bounty of new money
  • It’s supposed to be spent on ‘high-needs’ students
  • Teacher unions, districts want money for salaries

As a severe recession gripped California a half-decade ago, the state budget took a beating and it hit education hard.

School spending (including local property taxes, but not federal funds) plunged from a high of $56.6 billion in 2007-08 to as low as $47.3 billion three years later – mostly by postponing constitutionally mandated aid to schools.

However, when the economy began to recover and voters passed a temporary tax increase in 2012, school spending rebounded sharply.

In 2012-13, it jumped by $10 billion-plus to $57.9 billion and will increase to an estimated $68.4 billion in 2015-16 under Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget and likely even more.

The additional spending is of two kinds – natural increase as schools claim their legal share of the revenue stream, and repayment of deferrals from the recessionary period.

At Brown’s behest, much of the new school money stream is being directed into his pet educational reform, the Local Control Funding Formula, that gives districts with large numbers of poor and/or “English learner” students additional funds to raise their academic achievement.

The multibillion-dollar infusion is intertwined, however, with two other factors – a desire of teacher unions to make up for years of austerity by negotiating salary raises, and a worsening shortage of teachers, especially in specific academic areas.

The latter is itself a product of several factors, including an expansion of nonteaching employment opportunities, especially in technical fields, in an improving economy; high college student debt that makes teaching careers less attractive; and a surge in retirements by teachers in the huge baby boomer generation.

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