PUBLIC EDUCATION FUNDING – SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL
Public education funding in the US is mostly from local property taxes. As a result of residential living patterns, it is highly inequitable; students whose families live in high income communities get far more funding for their public school education while students whose families live in in poorer communities get far less.
Several states stand out as doing a far better job of equitably funding public education for students living in low-income communities – Utah, Ohio, Minnesota, New Jersey, South Dakota and Georgia. And several states stand out for their highly inequitable funding, i.e. schools with students in high income communities get far more funding to educate their children than do schools in low income communities – Illinois, New York, Alabama and Missouri.
A similar pattern shows up in terms of public education funding for students of color. Ohio, Louisiana, New Jersey, Minnesota and Massachusetts are exemplars in more equitably allocating educational funding for students of color. Nebraska, Illinois, North Dakota, Kansas and Texas distribute far more funding to their public schools enrolling higher percentages of white students.
California’s public school education funding is mildly progressive on both fronts due to three major developments. In Serrano v. Priest, 5 Cal.3d 584 (1971) (Serrano I) and Serrano v. Priest, 18 Cal.3d 728 (1976) (Serrano II), the California Supreme Court held that the widely diverse funding of public school education by local school districts was separate and unequal in violation of the equal protection clauses of the US Constitution and the California constitution. Think of the difference in property values between the Beverly Hills school district and the Compton school district. The Serrano decisions in combination with the property tax rollbacks and constraints on local property taxes in Prop 13 led the state of California to take on a major role in funding and assuring equal education funding for all public school children, regardless of the zip codes in which they lived. Most public school funding in California now comes from the state -- as a guaranteed share of the highly progressive state income taxes and the more regressive sales taxes. In addition, the state redistributes revenues from local property taxes to comply with the rulings in Serrano. In 2013-14 the California Legislature adopted and the Governor signed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which over eight years improves state funding for those school districts with a high percentage of disadvantaged students (foster children, English language learners and low income students) whose educational costs all things being equal are much higher.
About 85% of all LAUSD students are “disadvantaged students”. By 2015, local school districts with the highest percent of disadvantaged children were receiving 7% more than those school districts with the highest income children in California. This LCCF funding will increase over time.
The US Supreme Court in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez reached the opposite conclusion from the Serrano decision upholding separate and highly unequal school funding in Texas – a terrible decision in my view. The Texas Supreme Court eventually ruled that separate and unequal school funding for students living in poorer communities violated the Texas state constitution; in other states like New Jersey, the state courts have required the end of separate and unequal school funding.
The LA school strike was settled with 6% across the board raises for teachers’ salaries over three years and reductions in their class sizes. Average LAUSD teacher salaries are $65,000; they start about $45,000 and increase with longevity to $94,000. Striking teachers maintain that they cannot teach effectively without lower class sizes, nurses, librarians and a pay increase. LAUSD maintains it is facing severe long-term budget deficits, which will be exacerbated by the new contract. https://achieve.lausd.net/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=4466&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=70874&PageID=1
The overall LAUSD budget is $13.7 billion, and the General Fund portion is about $7.5 billion; before the strike the District was projecting operating deficits starting at over $200 million annually beginning in 2020-21. The annual cost to the district of the new hires required under the contract is in excess of $400 million.
The LAUSD Board has voted unanimously to seek an increase in the local parcel tax amounting to $500 million annually to fund the new contract. Due to Prop 13, increases in parcel property taxes require a 2/3rds vote in California and are thus notoriously difficult to achieve; they are a more regressive but more stable form of taxation and revenue than the state income tax. The LAUSD proposal would exempt residential owning seniors and persons with disabilities (who may rely on fixed incomes) from the increased parcel tax, and also bases the tax on the square footage of the residence, making it more progressive than a flat parcel tax would be. Los Angeles residents were strongly supportive of the teachers during the strike; one would hope they will be equally supportive of the taxes needed to generate the revenues to pay for the increased teacher salaries, lower class sizes, more school nurses and more school librarians as required under the new contract. The teachers union is also seeking (with the support of some members of the LAUSD governing body) to cap the district’s growing public non-profit charter school enrollment (20% of the district’s school enrollment), a choice which is strongly preferred by some parents. It is unclear how the teacher’s union/charter school parents rift will play out in the context of passing a ballot initiative for a tax increase requiring a 2/3rd vote.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin