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JV_BACKTOSCHOOL 132.JPGThe California Teachers Association and other advocates of higher spending on public schools often complain that California is at or near the bottom in per-pupil spending, compared to other states.

Conservatives on the other side of the school finance issue complain that too much of the state's school money is wasted, often citing the assertion that California's teachers are the highest paid in the nation.

The CTA et al. then counter that California's high salaries are not so high when the state's notoriously high cost of living is factored into the equation.

And so the debate goes, year after year, especially as the state struggles to balance its budget. But what are the facts?

EdSource, a Mountain View-based think tank on California education issues, has weighed in with a report called "How California Ranks," aimed at providing a factual basis for the debate. But it also warns that its data, like all numbers on schools, are at least a couple of years old while the overall financial picture for schools is changing constantly.

Among the report's points:

• There's no doubt that California is below average in per pupil spending, ranking 28th in 2007-08, the last year for which data are available from the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics.

• When the 2007-08 numbers are adjusted for cost of living, the state does fall to 43rd, close to the bottom.

• California school spending was reduced, at least in relative terms, in 2008-09 and 2009-10 as the state faced a severe budget crisis, but other states also were making budget changes during those years "so it is impossible to say where California would place in those rankings now."

• California's teacher salaries were the highest in the nation in 2007-08, but its pupil-staff ratio was also 49th, meaning teachers here are paid better but also must handle more students than in other states. In fact, it has just half as many teachers, on a per-pupil basis, at the high school level as the national average ratio.

• California is in line with the average of other states in the percentage of its spending that goes to classroom instruction (67 percent). Its administrative costs are slightly above the national average. Spending on operations such as transportation, food services and building maintenance and support services such as counseling and health care are below average.

• California's overall spending on public education, as a percentage of Californians' personal income, ranks 39th among the states at $37 for every $1,000 of income, $3 below the average of $40.

The full report can be found here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Students search for their names and classroom before entering the new Cosumnes River Elementary School. on Aug. 16, 2010. José Luis Villegas/ Sacramento Bee


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