Under the best case scenario, students in K-12 education here in Davis are fighting over table scraps. If budgets are the monetary embodiment of our values, what does that say about the value of our kids?
If Davis had no parcel tax, our budget would be $10,333 per pupil. But because we have a parcel tax that number is $11,582 – with the average district in the state being $12,228 per pupil.
In absolute numbers that puts California 21st in the nation in per pupil spending. If we were able to index our spending to cost, it would be far worse. For instance, states just ahead of us include: Nebraska, Ohio, Minnesota, Maine and North Dakota.
The top-spending state per pupil is New York at $23,000, then DC at $21,974, then it goes: Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, Alaska, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.
The Eastern Elite are all higher than California. It boggles the mind that Wyoming spends about 33 percent more per pupil than does California.
The fact is that California is more like the south and much of the west than it is like the top public education sectors of the country in the northeast.
But this is not really telling the full story.
Compare this to the cost per pupil to attend UC Davis. The unsubsidized cost is about $43,394. According to one figure, though, the average amount for similar schools based on out-of-state tuition is about $30,000. To attend an elite school like Stanford, that amount is $51,354. Harvard – for tuition it is $46,340.
It now costs a whopping $81,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison. According to the LAO (Legislative Analyst’s Office), that cost has increased by 58 percent or $32,000 since 2010-11. About three-quarters of those costs are for security and inmate health care.
Across the nation, that number is about $33,274.
Why has California soared so much in per-inmate spending since the already high number in 2011? PolitiFact looked at the costs of incarceration and noted that, in 2011, California was forced to cut inmate levels by a Supreme Court decision that found “overcrowding in prisons violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.”
While California has cut inmates, it hasn’t led to the closure of prisons and hasn’t led to a reduction of prison staffing. By the way, neither of those things might be bad things, given that prisons in general have been understaffed and overcrowded.
Use whatever numbers you want – the amount of money we spent on the front end of education pales in comparison to the amount of money we spend for higher education on a per student basis. Our higher education system, particularly our public higher education system, ranks second to none (see here), but when it comes to K-12, according to a study from the PEW Research Center (here), the US was 38th out of 71 in math and 24th in science. And those numbers mark a huge fall from 1990 when the US was in the top 10.
Meanwhile, as well advertised, the US leads the world by far in incarcerated population. We spend money on higher education, we spend money on incarceration, but we do not spend nearly enough on K-12.
Here in Davis we would be receiving around $10,000 without the parcel tax. If we were a state, that would rank us with Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia – in the bottom third in the nation in per pupil spending.
If we pass the new parcel tax, it puts us right at the state average. But, then again, states like New York, Connecticut and New Jersey dwarf us.
When Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio met last year, they talked about this being a much bigger issue than just about Davis. This is a statewide problem, and indeed a nationwide problem.
As Associate Superintendent Matt Best pointed out, it could be argued that even $12,000 per pupil is not sufficient. On the east coast, as Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby pointed out, that base number is more like $17,000.
Overall, funding in California “is inadequate for what we all believe should be happening.”
This parcel tax is not going to change most of that. We are trying to tread water. We are trying to have a great educational system on the cheap. We are spending at levels that we would never dream of for higher education – or even for incarceration.
According to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), total expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools in the United States in 2015–16 amounted to $706 billion, or $13,847 per public school student enrolled in the fall (in constant 2017–18 dollars).
Imagine what we could do if we had more resources to go into public education, to help students who are at risk, to invest in programs that can help those students succeed rather than fuel the school-to-prison pipeline? What would that cost? And what would that be worth?
—David M. Greenwald reporting