K–12 Education and the New State Budget
The recently enacted 2019–20 budget allocates 28% of the total state budget for all K–12 education programs: $103.4 billion ($58.8 billion from the General Fund). Proposition 98, passed by the voters in 1988, establishes a minimum annual funding level for K–12 schools and community colleges. This year, the Proposition 98 funding level is $81.1 billion, bringing K–12 per-pupil expenditures to nearly $12,000. According to the Department of Finance, total per-pupil funding, including all federal, state, and local sources amounts to $17,423.
In addition, the rainy day fund requires the state to set aside savings for future education spending based on specific criteria, including General Fund tax revenue and Proposition 98 funding levels. This year, for the first time ever, the budget triggers a deposit into Public School System Stabilization Account at $376.5 million.
The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) is the primary manner in which funds are distributed to support students. This year’s budget brings the total LCFF funding to nearly $63 billion, a $1.9 billion increase from last year, accounting for a statutory cost-of-living adjustment.
This year’s enacted budget also includes funding to address a wide range of concerns, including pensions, special education, and full-day kindergarten. For teacher pensions (CalSTRS), the budget pays down the state’s ($2.9 billion) and the districts’ share ($1.6 billion) of the unfunded liability. Another $500 million for fiscal year 2019–20 reduces by 1.03% school districts’ contribution rate to CalSTRS and CalPERS (pensions for public employees). The budget adds $350 million to reduce that contribution rate by an additional 0.7% in 2020–21.
The budget aims to mitigate rising special education costs to districts by adding more than $600 million to support students with disabilities.
A $300 million one-time payment goes to the Full-Day Kindergarten Facilities Grant program, which allows districts to construct new facilities or retrofit preexisting ones for the purposes of ensuring access to full-day kindergarten.
Despite the record funding level this year, two longer-term finance issues loom. The CalSTRS funding plan, as governed by AB 1469, has set school districts’ share of teacher pension costs to increase to 18.1% in 2019–20 and to 19.1% by 2020–21. While the budget’s funding toward the districts’ contribution rate will provide much-needed relief, growing pension costs will remain challenging.
Finally, in a time of growing costs, declining student enrollment is hampering districts across the state. Over the past five years, nearly half of all districts experienced enrollment losses—and this trend may continue over the next decade. Given that the state’s funding model is based on average daily attendance, declining enrollment is likely to persist as an important fiscal issue over the long run.