When adjusted for inflation, California spent about $7,400 per pupil in 1977, about $1,000 above the national average, according to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. By 1983, California’s per pupil spending had dropped to $6,700, dipping below the national average, where it has generally stayed.
Between 1970 and 1997, per pupil spending in California fell more than 15 percent relative to spending in other states, according to a report from the Public Policy Institute of California.
Koski says education spending in California has never really recovered from the Prop. 13 vote.
“We went from among the highest-funded school districts in the country to among the lowest funded school districts.”
The California Budget & Policy Center ranked California 41st in the nation in per pupil spending, when taking into account cost of living in each state. In 2015-2016, California schools spent $10,291 per student, about $1,900 less than the national average, according to the center.
Prop. 13’s limits on local funding are a key reason other states outspend California, according to Kirst.
“They have a three-legged stool of funding,” Kirst says of other states. “They have federal, they have state and they have local property tax. We have a two-legged stool.”
Today, California’s districts get about 60 percent of their funding from the state and a little over 30 percent from local sources, according to a recent report by Imazeki.
New work from the American Institutes for Research estimates California would need to boost K-12 funding by 32 percent, or about $22 billion, in order for the state to meet its education targets.
‘We brought it on ourselves’
Imazeki says coming up with that money is a tall order.
“People can't expect that there will be easy answers,” she says. “But I do think that making adjustments to Prop. 13 is at least a start. It's not a panacea, it's not a silver bullet, but it is a start.”
For his part, Kirst doubts voters will mess with Prop 13.
“It’s a bedrock of California political culture,” says Kirst, who sympathizes with today’s voters, and those of 1978.
“We brought it on ourselves,” he says, arguing that so long as policymakers fail to address the underlying issue of sky-high housing costs, voters will cling to Prop. 13’s protections.
Kirst thinks the state will likely need to find money somewhere else. His vote: extend sales taxes to services, especially services used by higher income Californians.
But even more money for schools won’t undo all the changes wrought by Prop. 13. Because as the state assumed responsibility for funding schools, it also assumed control.
“He who has the gold sets the rules,” says Kirst. “We created from Prop. 13 a massive centralization of California's state education policy.”
An overhaul of the school finance system in 2013 aimed to shift control back to local communities. But it has yet to undo what Kirst sees as another important part of Prop. 13’s legacy: a loss of confidence in public education.