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Tracking K-12 Education Spending in California Cathy S. Krop, Stephen J. Carroll, Randy L. Ross
RAND Copyright © 1995
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Preface This report examines how California's federal, state, and local education dollars are spent after they are allocated to K-12 education. The ability of California to provide a quality education for its youth depends both on California's ability to fund K-12 education and on how the education dollars are used to provide educational services after they are allocated.
In a previous study, RAND developed a simulation model of California school finance that showed the prospects for funding K-12 education over the next decade (Shires et al., 1993). The model pointed to a likely crisis in the fiscal ability of the state to fund increasing educational expenditures. This results from a disconnect between state fiscal conditions and the projected rapid growth rates in its K-12 population.
If policymakers are to efficiently allocate resources within the current system or are to consider changes to the current system, they need to know how the education dollars provided to the over 1,000 school districts in California are now being spent. In particular, they need to know what is spent at each of the levels at which educational expenditures are made, including the California Department of Education, the county offices of education, the district offices of education, and the schools themselves in support of K-12 education in California.
We have developed a large database from several sources that enables us to detail how education dollars are spent at each level within broadly defined expenditure categories. After examining the expenditure patterns of all school districts in California as a whole, we look at the differences in these expenditure patterns for different types of school districts and for the special-needs populations.
This report's findings should be of interest to a broad range of policymakers, researchers, administrators, teachers, and parents.
This research was funded by School Futures Research. It is part of a larger body of research on California school finance and on school reform efforts being conducted through RAND's Institute on Education and Training.
Summary The ability of California to provide a quality education for its youth depends both on California's capacity to fund K-12 education and on how the education dollars are used to provide educational services after they are allocated. The conflicting trends between California's fiscal well-being and the growth in its student population suggest that it will be difficult to keep per-pupil public K-12 spending constant throughout the 1990s (Shires et al., 1993). But, relative to other states, California's per-pupil spending on K-12 public education has already been falling for about 15 years. In 1978, California's per-pupil outlay on public education exceeded the national average. The situation has gotten increasingly worse since that year. In 1992-93, for example, California's per pupil spending for public education ranked 38th in the country and was lower than the national average by nearly $1,000 per pupil (National Education Association, 1994).
In the near term, it is doubtful that the state's relative position will improve (Shires et al., 1993). As a result, policymakers and the public have begun to focus increasingly on how California's limited education resources can be put to their best use. Information about how resources are actually used should form the basis for such analyses.
Study Design Drawing on the extensive data provided through California's financial reporting system for counties and school districts as well as on the detailed budgets of particular school districts, this report describes K-12 total and per-pupil expenditures for California's 1,000-plus districts for school year 1992-93 (the most recent year for which data were available). We examine in detail how county offices of education, district offices, and schools spend their education dollars. In addition to mapping out how school districts across California as a whole spend their money, we examine differences in how education resources are allocated among school districts. We focus particularly on how expenditures differ for elementary, secondary, and unified school districts as well as on how they differ for the special-needs populations. Ultimately, we would like to know how the resources are actually being put to use and whether they are being put to their most productive uses. Determining where the education dollars are going is the first step in that direction.
While similar studies on California K-12 expenditures have been carried out (Hayward, 1988), what distinguishes the present study is the level of detail that it provides. California's schools, school district offices, county offices, and Department of Education together make hundreds of types of expenditures in support of K-12 education in the state. This study presents one way to organize those education expenditures into categories of expenditure. We provide the details on what types of expenditures we have included in each of the categories of expenditure, the basis for their placement, and the size of each of the expenditures to enable users of this report to discuss the different types of expenditures, to move expenditures easily from one category to another, and to recategorize expenditures in other sensible ways.
Findings Total unduplicated school district, county, and state K-12 expenditures for the 1992-93 school year were $27,567 million. This results in a per-pupil expenditure of $5,353 for all students enrolled in school districts in California. As shown in Figure S.1, we divide total California K-12 education expenditures into a hierarchy of categories, from broader to narrower categories. The broadest categories are state operations expenditures, county office of education expenditures, and district expenditures. These broad categories of spending are then divided into more detailed categories of expenditures.
Figure S.1--Total K-12 Expenditures
Clearly, the majority of K-12 spending, $25,433 million, takes place at the school-district level. District expenditures account for about 92 percent of total K-12 expenditures. Six percent of total K-12 expenditures take place at the county level, and 2 percent of total K-12 expenditures take place in support of state operations. Further, most spending takes place out of the general funds. District and county- general-fund expenditures together totaled $22,381 million and accounted for about 81 percent of total K-12 expenditures of $27,567 million for the 1992-93 school year.
School District Expenditures As shown in Figure S.1, school districts spent about $25,433 million in the 1992-93 school year. Dividing this total through by the 5,149,597 students enrolled in school districts in California results in a per- pupil district expenditure of $4,939 for the 1992-93 school year.
The majority of this spending, $21,011 million, was district general-fund spending. And the majority of district general-fund spending, $19,308 million, took place at school sites. In total, districts spent $13,101 million on classroom personnel and materials, or $2,544 per pupil. Of this, about $11,505 million, or $2,234 per pupil, went to teachers' salaries and benefits. Direct services cost a total of about $1,425 million for the 1992-93 school year. The per-pupil expenditure on direct services was about $277. This includes about $397 million spent on guidance, welfare, and attendance salaries and about $348 million spent on pupil transportation salaries and benefits.
In 1992-93, California's schools spent about $2,294 million, or about $445 per pupil, on school facilities. This includes about $230 million for maintenance salaries, $690 million for operations salaries, and $302 million for the benefits for the two groups. In addition, schools spent about $481 million for their utilities.
Schools also spent about $944 million, or about $183 per pupil, on school administrators which includes the salaries and benefits of school principals and vice principals. Further, about $1,544 million of school district resources, or $300 per pupil, went to other school-based activities. This includes about $625 million paid to school clerical and other office salaries.
In addition, about $1,764 million, or $343 per pupil, of school district general-fund expenditures paid for district operations. This includes about $417 million paid to district clerical and other office salaries. Benefits to district office personnel, including superintendents, administrators, and clerical staff, totaled about $245 million for the 1992-93 school year. Undistributed transfers amounted to about $61 million, or $12 per pupil. These are negative because they are subtracted from total district expenditures to avoid double counting expenditures that are only transfers from one program, fund, or agency to another.
The individual categories of school district general-fund expenditures can be calculated as a percentage of total district general-fund expenditures or as a percentage of total K-12 expenditures. For example, school district general-fund expenditures on classroom personnel and materials of $13,101 million account for about 62 percent of total district general-fund expenditures and 47 percent of total K-12 expenditures. Likewise, district general-fund expenditures on district operations of $1,764 million account for about 8 percent of district general-fund expenditures and about 6 percent of total K-12 expenditures.
Beyond the general fund, school districts spend money from funds that are set aside for special purposes. For example, child nutrition program money is set aside in the cafeteria fund. In total, expenditures from these other district K-12 funds were $4,422 million, or about $859 per pupil, for the 1992-93 school year. The largest of these other funds, recording expenditures of $1,013 million, is the school lease-purchase fund, which is used to account separately for state apportionments used to reconstruct, remodel, or replace existing school buildings. In addition, school districts spent about $919 million from the cafeteria fund for the 1992-93 school year.
County Expenditures California has 58 county offices of education, and they vary greatly in their functions and responsibilities. In total, county offices of education spent about $1,550 million, or $301 per pupil, for the 1992- 93 school year.
As shown in Figure S.1, county general-fund expenditures totaled about $1,370 million, or $266 per pupil, for the 1992-93 school year. Pointing to a few of the larger types of county general-fund expenditures, counties reported expenditures of about $281 million on teachers' salaries for the 1992-93 school year. This amounts to about $55 for each of California's public school students. Counties also spent about $88 million on instructional aides' salaries. Benefits to teachers and instructional aides were about $104 million. In total, county salaries and benefits to teachers and instructional aides were about $473 million, or 35 percent of total county general-fund expenditures.
Counties also spent about $107 million on clerical and other office salaries and benefits. The largest single type of county general-fund spending, $325 million for the 1992-93 school year, is for other services and operating expenditures. This expenditure contains a wide variety of contracted services like transportation or payroll services.
As shown in Figure S.1, a relatively small share of county expenditures, $180 million or $35 per pupil, come from other county K-12 funds, which hold money aside for specific purposes. The largest of these is the county self-insurance fund with expenditures of about $153 million for the 1992-93 school year.
State Operations Expenditures K-12 state operations expenditures totaled about $584 million, or $113 per pupil, for the 1992-93 school year. State operations include state spending on K-12 support services provided by the state, principally spending on the California Department of Education and repayments on state general obligation bonds.
California spent about $78 million for the operation of the California Department of Education for the 1992-93 school year. This is about $15 per pupil enrolled in school districts in California in the 1992- 93 school year. The state has also over the years issued general obligation bonds primarily in support of capital facilities. Payments, including principal and interest, on these bond issues for the 1992-93 school year totaled about $483 million or $94 per pupil.
Distinguishing Expenditure Patterns of Districts In addition to describing how school districts as a group spend their money, we also looked at how expenditure patterns differ for elementary, secondary, and unified school districts as well as how they differ for the special-needs populations.
Expenditure Patterns by Type of District We looked at the same categories of district general- fund spending as examined previously, but separately for unified, high school, and elementary school districts. Virtually all K-12 public school students are enrolled in one of three types of school districts: high school, elementary, or unified (which contains high school and elementary grades). For the 1992-93 school year, there were 596 elementary school districts, 301 unified school districts, and 104 high school districts for a total of 1,001 school districts in California. While the majority of school districts in California are elementary school districts, the unified school districts enroll the majority of students. For the 1992-93 school year, elementary districts enrolled about 1.1 million students, unified districts enrolled about 3.6 million students, and high school districts enrolled about 0.4 million students, for a total of about 5.1 million students enrolled in school districts in California.
In total, per-pupil district general-fund expenditures for high school districts for the 1992-93 school year were about $4,511. Per-pupil general-fund expenditures for unified districts were about $4,119 and for elementary districts were about $3,777. In total then, high school district spend about $392 more than unified districts per pupil and about $734 more than elementary districts per pupil.
In addition to high schools spending more per pupil than elementary schools overall, we found that across each category of expenditure, as shown in Figure S.2, high school districts spent the most per pupil. High school districts spent more per pupil than elementary districts not just on classroom personnel and materials but also on direct services, school facilities, school administrators, other school-based expenditures, and district operations.
Figure S.2-Per-Pupil Expenditures by Type of District
We also looked at whether elementary, high school, and unified school districts spent similar shares of their total expenditures on each category of expenditure. While they generally spend similar shares of their resources on each category, there are some small differences in their allocation of resources across categories. For example, unified districts spent about 61 percent of their total general-fund expenditures, or $2,547 per pupil, on classroom personnel and materials. High school districts spent about 58 percent, or $2,667 per pupil, of their total general-fund expenditures here, and elementary districts spent about 63 percent, or $2,436 per-pupil, of their total expenditures on classroom personnel and materials.
The Special-Needs Populations The state and the federal government provide funding for a number of programs for students with particular needs. These federal and state programs may result in per-pupil expenditures that differ for the students who participate in these programs. We focused on the expenditures of three of the largest categorical programs: special education, Chapter 1, and child nutrition.
The mandate for special education is to ensure that all children with exceptional needs receive, free of charge, education services that meet their needs. School districts spent about $2,629 million on special education students for the 1992-93 school year. This represented about 13 percent of total district general-fund expenditures. Counties spent about $566 million on special education for the 1992-93 school year, which amounts to about 41 percent of total county general-fund expenditures.
District and county per-pupil expenditures vary greatly by the type of special education program. For example, the per-pupil expenditure of about $23,613 for non-public-school students is about double the expenditure on any other group of special education students. These are students for whom it is determined that the public schools cannot provide the services that the student needs, and the public school pays for the student to be enrolled at a private school. Of the other special education programs, the Special Day Class, which provides the most public school services to a special education student, spent about $8,820 per pupil. The Designated Instruction and Services program, which provides the least intensive public school services to special education students, spent about $3,153 per pupil.
In general, Chapter 1 funds are used to supplement the educational services provided to low-achieving students in low-income neighborhoods. For the 1992-93 school year, school districts spent about $517 million on direct Chapter 1 expenditures and related support costs. This is about 2.5 percent of total district general-fund expenditures. In addition, counties spent about $72 million on direct Chapter 1 expenditures and related support costs. This is about 5.3 percent of total county general-fund expenditures.
The number of participating Chapter 1 students for the 1992- 93 school year was 1,283,700. Of those, about 34,126 students from 399 private schools in California participated in the Chapter 1 program. The resulting district and county per-pupil expenditure is about $459 for students participating in the Chapter 1 program in the 1992-93 school year.
Child nutrition is primarily a school breakfast and school lunch program. It is the largest of the federal categorical programs providing about $640 million in support to California's schools in 1992-93. State dollars for school nutrition programs totaled about $49 million for the 1992-93 school year. District and county spending on the child nutrition programs is included in the cafeteria fund, not in district or county general-fund expenditures.
The federal and state child nutrition programs reimburse schools based on the number and type of breakfast and lunch meals served. Breakfasts and lunches are classified as "free," "reduced priced," or "paid," and each has a different reimbursement rate.
The yearly expenditure per student in a school that serves less than 60 percent free and/or reduced price lunches is about $332 for those receiving free meals, about $260 for those receiving reduced price meals, and about $30 for those receiving paid meals. The yearly expenditure for those students participating in schools that serve at least 60 percent free and/or reduced price lunches is about $4 more. Additional expenditures are made for those students who participate in the school breakfast program. The yearly expenditure per student in a school that serves less than 40 percent free and/or reduced price lunches is $194 for those receiving free meals, $140 for those receiving reduced price meals, and $34 for those receiving paid meals. The yearly expenditure for those participating in schools that serve at least 40 percent free and/or reduced price lunches is about $33 more for those receiving free meals or reduced price meals, and the same for those receiving paid meals.
Concluding Remarks This study shows how California's education dollars are spent. We examined how much is spent in California among a variety of categories of expenditure at the state, county, district, and school level. We have provided the details on what types of expenditures we have included in each of the categories of expenditure to enable users of the report to understand and discuss the different types of expenditures, to move expenditures easily from one category to another, and to recategorize expenditures in other sensible ways. At the same time, the scope of the current report does not include evaluating whether those expenditure patterns are "good" or "bad" or trying to systematically determine the reasons behind the expenditure patterns that we find. We have looked at differences in expenditure patterns for elementary, high school, and unified school districts as well as for the special-needs populations. But, district expenditure patterns may also be influenced by many factors that we do not explore such as geographic location, degree of urbanicity, wealth, or diversity of the student population. Our purpose here is to determine how the education dollars are spent to help initiate and frame further discussions and analyses on education spending.
All of the per-pupil numbers shown here are averages across all school districts in California and do not show the variations that exist from school district to school district.
The per-pupil expenditures presented here are not total school district and county expenditures on the participating students but represent the per-pupil spending from the particular program alone.
Contents Chapter One: Introduction
Organization of the Report
Chapter Two: Organization of Education Spending and Data Sources
Organization of Education Spending
Chapter Three: School District Expenditure Patterns
Total School District Expenditures
Other District K-12 Funds
Chapter Four: County and State Expenditure Patterns
Total County and State Expenditures
State Operations Expenditures
Chapter Five: Total California K-12 Expenditures
Chapter Six: Distinguishing Expenditure Patterns of Unified, High School, and Elementary School Districts
Classroom Personnel and Materials
Other School-Based Expenditures
Undistributed School-Based Transfers
Total Expenditures and Total Per-Pupil Expenditures
Chapter Seven: District and County Spending on the Special-Needs Populations
Chapter Eight: Conclusions