A sore spot for California: funding structure for schools

Caitlyn Schlaman, Staff Writer

The state of California used to be ranked 14th in education, but it’s no surprise that it dropped to 48th on the U.S. Department of Education’s list, which takes a state’s spending per pupil and factors in buying power in each state. California’s rift between the increasing cost of living and a good education has driven the state’s education system to ruin.

Each state differs in how they utilize education funding. The federal government is only mandated to supply 8 percent of funding. Branham, like most traditional public schools, is funded through property taxes.

In California, there are complications with this straightforward way of using property taxes for funding. First, there is Prop. 13, a measure passed in 1978, which was enacted to help ease the inflation of property taxes on owners. Essentially, the measure put a cap on how much the state could tax a certain property.

While homeowners appreciated this measure, funding for schools dropped almost overnight. California’s public schools held a long decline down. Before 1978, spending in California was $400 above the national average of spending per student. In the early ’80s and ’90s, it was $600 below. In 1988, Californians became alarmed at the state of its public school funding. Prop. 98 mandated that 45.6 percent of the state’s budget be allocated to public schools. This helped, but legislators didn’t think it was enough. Some counties can pass a parcel tax, which taxes a flat fee per parcel of land.

This parcel tax is how Branham gets its funds. This might seem enough for public schools funding. As state revenue declines due to the 2008 recession, and a slow recovery from it, leaving public schools in a scramble for funds.


At Branham, the school relies on the parcel tax to fund most of the school’s needs. There are several bonds that it receives: Measure E, which assess $85 per parcel per year (it ends in 2023). Voters recently passed Measure AA, which asks for an additional $30 for every $100,000 assessment in property values. This is expected to bring in $275 million for needed fixes and upgrades to school infrastructure.
In this district, prices for homes and property taxes are high, but also the graduation rates are around 91 percent. Palo Alto is home to the highest values in properties; its graduation rate is 95 percent. In Inyo County, where the value property is extremely low, the graduation rate is under 30 percent.

This is a troubling trend for those who can’t afford a high-value home, and also those who are economically challenged.

If California could take the time to reevaluate Prop. 13, the system of funding could change. Economic inequality is a big issue for the state’s schools. Fortunately, the Campbell Union High School District is trying to fix that.

The district has been planning an initiative, called For the Kids, which will have it leasing the existing land that it owns, and move its offices to downtown Campbell, which would bring in continuous revenue over the next few decades. This would open up the district to sell the land it owns, or purchase more. On this land, plans for a new district office and storage locker facility. There are also plans for a home for those with Alzheimer’s and a preschool.

This initiative is a small fix for CUHSD schools, but California still needs to take another look at the way schools are funded now and correct its mistakes.