State Spending Urban Myths Exposed

MYTH #1 California’s schools have bloated staffs.

FALSE  California has more students per school staff than the rest of the US, ranking last or near the bottom on a 
number of measures. California’s schools:
  • Ranked 50th in the nation with respect to the number of students per teacher. California averaged 20.5 students for each teacher in 2010–11, nearly 50 percent more than the rest of the US, which averaged 13.8 students per teacher. California’s large class sizes mean teachers have less time to attend to the educational needs of each student than do teachers in other states.
  • Ranked 49th in the nation with respect to the number of students per guidance counselor. California’s schools averaged 810 students for each guidance counselor in 2009–10 while the rest of the US averaged 433 students per guidance counselor. California’s large number of students per guidance counselor means many students may not receive the assistance they need to plan for college or a future career. 
  • Ranked 50th in the nation with respect to the number of students per librarian. California’s schools averaged 5,489 students for each librarian in 2009–10, more than six times the rest of the US, which averaged 839 students per librarian.
  • Ranked 46th in the nation with respect to the number of students per administrator. California’s schools averaged 301 students for each administrator in 2009–10, compared to 203 students per administrator.

MYTH #2 California schools are better funded than in other states.

FALSE  The gap between resources available to California schools and those in the rest of the nation has widened 
substantially during the past decade. Specifically: 
  • The gap between California spending per student and the rest of the US grew more than fourfold during the past decade, after adjusting for inflation. California spent $691 less per student than the rest of the US in 2001–02. The gap in spending per student widened to $2,856 in 2010–11, an increase of more than 310 percent.
  • The gap between California’s school spending as a share of the state’s economy—measured by the state’s personal income—and that of other states has increased more than fivefold since 2001–02. California school spending equaled 3.9 percent of state personal income—the total income of all Californians—in 2001–02, while the rest of the US equaled 4.09 percent. The 0.19 percentage-point gap that occurred in 2001–02, the smallest in at least 30 years, expanded to nearly 0.5 percentage points in 2005–06 before narrowing to 0.28 percentage points in 2007–08. However, the gap increased to 1.02 percentage points in 2010–11, larger than at any other time in the past 40 years. 
  • The gap between the number of students per teacher in California and that of the rest of the US grew by approximately 14 percent between 2001–02 and 2010–11. In 2001–02, California had 5.9 more students per teacher than the rest of the US. The gap widened until 2004–05, when California had 6.4 more students per teacher than the rest of the nation. While California’s class sizes remained relatively constant between 2004–05 and 2010–11, class sizes in the rest of the US became smaller. As a result, California classrooms had 6.7 more students per teacher and were nearly 50 percent larger than classes in the rest of the US in 2010–11.

MYTH #3 No one knows where California’s tax dollars go.

FALSE  California’s state budget supports an array of programs and services that touch the lives of all Californians—
from schools and colleges to healthcare and public safety to highways and environmental protection. The state budget 
is primarily a local budget: Most state dollars go to local communities, healthcare providers, and individuals throughout 
the state. The largest share of state spending goes to education—more than 50 cents out of every state dollar supports 
California’s public schools, community colleges, and public university systems. The next largest share of state spending (29 
cents out of every dollar) supports a range of health and human services that assist low-income children, families, seniors, 
and people with disabilities. More than 10 cents out of every dollar goes to the state’s prison system. The balance of the 
state budget supports other key public services as well as the institutions that comprise the state’s system of governance.

MYTH #4 State spending does not trickle down to local communities.

FALSE  More than 70 cents out of every dollar spent through the state budget goes to local communities, healthcare 
providers, and individuals. This spending (known as “local assistance” in “budget-speak”) includes state dollars that go to: 
  • Public schools and community colleges.
  • Counties for health and human services programs and public safety.
  • Healthcare providers who participate in the Medi-Cal Program, which serves 7.4 million low-income Californians, is the source of health care coverage for one out of three California children, and pays for two-thirds of nursing home costs in the state each year.
  • 1.3 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities who receive cash assistance through the Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP) Program.The remainder of the state budget, nearly 29 cents out of every dollar, provides funding for what is called “state operations.” These dollars support services and activities for which the state has complete or primary responsibility. Nearly all state funding for the California State University (CSU), the University of California (UC), the state’s prison system, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, falls into this category. State operations dollars—like local assistance dollars—are generally spent in local communities as support for university campuses, prisons, state parks, and other activities and institutions.

MYTH #5 California has too many state employees.

FALSE  In 2010 California had the fifth lowest number of full-time equivalent state government employees relative to 
population among all states. California had 110 state employees for every 10,000 residents while Florida had the lowest 
ratio at 98 and Illinois was second with 102. 

The U.S. average was 142 state employees per 10,000 residents. California’s ratio of state government employees relative 
to population was 23 percent below the national average. 

Nevada and Arizona also had lower ratios of state workers to population than California while Texas had 15 percent more 
employees relative to population.

MYTH #6 California has too many K–12 education employees. 

FALSE  California has the fourth lowest ratio of K–12 education employees to population in 2010 with 175 employees 
per 10,000 residents compared to the national average of 220. California is 20 percent below the national average in 
education employees relative to population despite the fact that California has an above-average percent of K–12 students 
in the state’s population. Texas is 25 percent above the national average with 279 K–12 employees per 10,000 residents.

MYTH #7 California’s education spending is near the highest of all states.

FALSE  Spending by California’s public schools is among the lowest of the 50 states. California schools:
  • Ranked 46th among the 50 states in K–12 spending per student in 2010–11. California schools spent $2,856 less per student than the rest of the US that year. To reach the level of the rest of the US, California would have had to spend an additional $17.3 billion on education, an increase of 32.1 percent.
  • Ranked 47th in education spending as a percentage of personal income—a measure that reflects the size of a state’s economy and the resources available to support public services. To reach the level of the rest of the US, California would have had to spend an additional $16.8 billion on education in 2010–11, an increase of 31.1 percent.