Prior to 1972 and Prop 13, school districts were largely dependent upon property taxes, which furnished about 2/3 of public education revenues. Local Districts could simply raise property taxes when more funds were required. Around the same time as Prop 13 came the Serrano vs Priest lawsuit, which challenged the fairness of the funding inequities that resulted from widely disparate property values and tax bases. The combined effect of Prop 13 and Serrano shifted public school support from local property taxes to state general funds, thereby transferring control from local authorities to the State.
With the State controlling funding, Districts receive a base amount for each student enrolled. Additional funds are typically granted to Districts in the form of “categorical spending,” or funds designated for specific programs tied to District demographic factors (e.g. socioeconomic). LCUSD does not qualify for these programs, and therefore receives a lower amount than most Districts. To make matters worse, although the District’s operating costs rise each year (even before addressing staff salaries), the State can decline to implement a cost of living adjustment, depending on its own finances. Thus, when costs like utilities or health benefits go up, the District has to find the money to fund the increases. These costs are in addition to any negotiated salary increases for teachers or other staff. Since most of the District budget is salary, the only way to fund the increases is to eliminate positions.
LCF residents have high expectations of their schools, as they should. But while free public education is possible, it doesn’t meet the standard we would all like to see. We want a GREAT public education for our kids, and that, unfortunately, is not free…
You can learn more about California school funding here.