The U.S. Department of Education publishes data on per-pupil spending in public elementary and secondary schools by state and by year, comparing the annual spending in constant 2021-22 dollars. The data can be found online in the National Center for Education Statistics’ Digest of Education Statistics, in table 236.70.
In the 1969-70 school year, California’s per-pupil spending was $6,474. (That’s the inflation-adjusted number. The nominal dollar amount at the time was $867.)
Proposition 13 was adopted in 1978. In the 1979-80 school year, per-pupil spending in California went up to $8,238. It rose to $9,752 in 1989-90, to $10,663 in 1999-2000, and to $12,596 in 2009-10.In 2019-20, the most recent year for which statistics are available on the U.S. government site, per-pupil spending in California was $15,860.
The state’s Department of Finance projects per-pupil spending will be $17,444 for the nearly 5.9 million students enrolled in grades K-12 in California’s public schools in 2023-24.
According to the May revision of the governor’s budget, the state will spend a total of $127.2 billion on K-12 education.
Anyone who believes California would be better off if only we could go back to the school funding level before Proposition 13 should consider this: If per-pupil spending was restored to the pre-Proposition 13 level in 1969-70, the state’s total spending on K-12 education for 2023-24 would be approximately $38.2 billion.
That’s $89 billion less than we’re paying now.
Maybe the Legislature should focus on where the money is going.