Is Gov. Brown Right to Dole Out Money to Schools Unequally?

Compare Cupertino's per student funding with other Santa Clara County schools.

This is what California public education looks like after the Great Recession: 

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of teachers in the state's K-12 classrooms shrunk by 11 percent. Reading specialists, librarians, and other school employees helping students learn declined by 14 percent. Front offices took the hardest blow, with the number of administrators dropping by 16 percent. All these cuts hit schools even as the total enrollment held steady at around 6.2 million students. 

Now that California is looking at its first budget without a deficit in five years, Gov. Jerry Brown's budget calls for restoring some money to the state's public schools. But, he does not want to distribute the money equally.

[For differences in revenues between Santa Clara County school districts during the 2010-11 school year, see the tables at the bottom of this article.]

"Aristotle said, 'Treating unequals equally is not justice.' And people are in different situations. Growing up in Compton or Richmond is not like it is to grow up in Los Gatos or Beverly Hills or Piedmont," Brown said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

There are already big differences in the sums school districts get from the state.

Consider two communities Brown mentioned, Piedmont and Richmond. In the 2010-11 school year, Piedmont received $12,287 for every student. The West Contra Costa Unified School District, which includes Richmond, received $9,735 per student.

But only $3,300 of Piedmont’s revenue came from the state. That’s about a third less than the average unified school district gets from Sacramento. Contra Costa Unified School District received $5,600 per student from the state, which is more than the statewide average.

Here’s how Piedmont made up the difference and then some: The $9.1 million that Piedmont raised that school year in parcel taxes was 7,589 percent higher than the statewide average.

Brown’s spending plan has $3 billion more than last year for K-12 and community colleges, but will that be enough to bridge the economic gap that contributes to the achievement gap, and ultimately becomes a cycle-reinforcing income gap? Does more money improve student performance? 

Cupertino USD Revenue for 2010-11 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school districts State Aid $1,051 31% Local Property Taxes $4,092 207% Federal Revenue $549 67% Other State Revenue $1,001 67% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $1,136 155% Total $7,829 92%

Fremont Union High School District Revenue for 2010-11

Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for high school districts State Aid -$20 0% Local Property Taxes $7,778 247% Federal Revenue $249 28% Other State Revenue -$223 0% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $1,202 169% Total $8,986 92% Los Altos SD Revenue for 2010-11 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school districts State Aid $7 0% Local Property Taxes $5,903 299% Federal Revenue $414 45% Other State Revenue $491 33% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $3,190 434% Total $10,005 118% Mountain View Whisman SD Revenue for 2010-2011 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for elementary school district State Aid -$4 0% Local Property Taxes $5,490 278% Federal Revenue $572 62% Other State Revenue $1,072 72% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $2,221 302% Total $9,352 110% Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School Revenue for 2010-11 Source  $ Amount per student % Statewide average for high school districts State Aid -$14 0% Local Property Taxes $11,727 372% Federal Revenue $437 49% Other State Revenue $1,400 94% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $1,448 204% Total $14,998


Palo Alto USD Revenue for 2010-11 Source $ Amount per student % Statewide average for unified school districts State Aid $168
5% Local Property Taxes $9,561 491% Federal Revenue $443 40% Other State Revenue $691 35% Other Local Revenue (includes parcel taxes) $2,892 544% Total $13,755


Source: California Department of Education, Ed-Data

Dave Stearns January 16, 2013 at 06:44 PM
Wait, what?? Piedmont got over $3K/student in state aid while FUHSD had to *pay* the state aid $20/student?? Can't be right. I assume the "state aid" rows in the tables are *deltas* between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, right? But the other rows don't look like deltas, so the tables' sums must be bogus, right?
Frank Geefay January 16, 2013 at 09:06 PM
For those who criticize CUSD and FUHSD for wasteful spending, these two school districts pale in comparison to the expenses of other school districts in our area. It just goes to show how money itself does not determine the quality of education children receive. These two school districts spend less than the state average and receive no state and marginal federal funding. Yet they are among the highest ranked districts in the State. Simply amazing! Think how much better these two districts would have performed had they received the same level of funding as for example Mountain View/Los Altos or Palo Alto. As for Gov. Brown's plans of unequal money for under-performing schools, I believe that this is appropriate as long as it is tied to improvements in performance. We should not continue putting money into under-performing schools that show not progress. In any event no matter what Gov. Brown does our two school districts will likely receive no or little additional money from the State. We essentially have locally funded school districts if this data is correct.
Gary Latshaw January 17, 2013 at 04:01 AM
Brown's goal of providing a better education for California students is a long-overdue and commendable goal. Developing a system that works for today and can "age" well as demographics change with time is the challenge. The current system is based in part on conditions in 1978, when proposition 13 was passed. That proposition reduced property taxes by 5 billion dollars, but the State was running a surplus of 5 billion dollars. So the first year the effects were modest for local services including schools. Over time everything became somewhat haywire with the schools now dependent on complex formulas for state funding and sporadic investments by parcel taxes. Hopefully he can provide predictability and possibly sanity to a new system.
Gary Latshaw January 17, 2013 at 04:03 AM
I should add that to my own posting that it also required the districts to dedicate substantial staff time to comply with the state requirements.
Michael Kwan January 23, 2013 at 09:04 PM
The difference is between "basic aid" and "revenue limit" districts. In the list in this article, I believe CUSD is the only revenue limit district. Everyone else on the list has near zero help from the state and are basic aid districts. Google the difference to see understand CA school funding. It's pretty messed up IMHO.


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