California Costing-Out 2007, AIR

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State Funding Context

California education is critical to the entire nation’s future because more than one in eight public school students in the U.S. attends school in California. According to the latest data available from NCES:

  • California had 6.4 million preK-12 students in 2004-05, of whom:
  • 49.1 percent were eligible for free/reduced lunch and
  • 25.1 percent were in ELL programs.

Also per NCES, the state spent $49.2 billion on preK-12 public education in 2003-04.

Study Title: Efficiency and Adequacy in California School Finance: A Professional Judgment Approach
Date Completed: March 2007


Definition of Adequacy: Adequacy was defined in terms of both inputs and outputs.

  • Inputs were outlined in a Goals Statement, which was summarized as: “All students should have access to instructional programs and services consistent with the California content standards in all subject areas,” including core subjects, visual and performance arts, and physical education.
  • Outputs were proficiency targets for 2011-2012, requiring approximately 78 percent proficiency on state exams, an API (Academic Performance Index) of 740 for each school, and graduation rates of 83.4%.
  • The authors noted that 2012 targets were used instead of 2014 targets of 100% proficiency, because 2014 targets were unrealistically high. Even so, the authors note that a graduation rate of 83.4% is “exceedingly stringent.”
Calculated Per Pupil Costs, Including Base Costs and Special-Needs Weightings:
  • Average (1)(2)(3): $11,094-$12,365
  • Urban: $11,508 – $12,718
  • Suburban: $10,726 – $12,077
  • Towns (4): $8,932 – $9,896
  • Rural: $10,615-$11,881

(1): The numbers provided are total average per pupil costs. Special needs costs were included using regression models and not weightings, so separate per pupil weightings are not available.
(2): The upper and lower limits of each range represent the recommendations from two separate professional judgment panels
(3): The special-needs weightings included in the per pupil expenditure figures include those for English learners, students requiring special education services, and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
(4): Towns are defined as small towns that are not part of a major metropolitan area but not rural in character.

Calculated Additional Costs: $24.1 to $32.0 billion per year, a 53% to 71% increase in funding
Major Recommendations:  Common recommendations of both panels included reducing class sizes, a longer school day, a longer school year, more specialists to provide services for special needs students, and increased and higher quality professional development for teachers

 The resources recommended by the professional judgment panels were predicated upon panelists disregarding the “categorical” appropriations in California’s school finance formula. Policymakers should develop a funding formula employing the special needs indices the authors use, as opposed to the current system.

 Update the study every 3 to 5 years

 Costs may be greater than they appear. For example, California would have to actively recruit teachers in order to attract enough teachers to fill the recommended models

 More research is needed on district level expenditures

Additional Findings:  Including pre-kindergarten expenditures, only 8 to 47 of California’s 984 districts are meeting adequacy targets. If the recommended funding is used only for K-12 education, only 21 to 99 districts are meeting adequacy targets.

 In making staffing recommendations, panelists said that achievement was not dependent on the number of staff alone, but how their roles and time were allocated

 Authors compared the California study to their 2004 study in New York, and found that the top of the per pupil expenditure range in the CA study was still less than the amount recommended for NY, after adjusting for inflation and cost of living.

 Authors noted that California has high standards, and that achieving high standards is expensive

Methodology: Professional Judgment:

 Two PJ panels, comprising 18 panelists, worked on school costs. Each panel was divided into 3 sub-panels. Panelists included superintendents, principals, special educators, school business officials, and teachers, selected only from high performing “beating the odds” or high-growth schools.

 Panelists were given hypothetical schools and 2005 scores and API for similar schools and were told to design instructional programs, under specific conditions:

  • Panelists were to make a “base model” and then make modifications for schools with varying demographics
  • Panelists were provided information about the relative costs of resources, so as to allow for immediate feedback about the efficiency of various strategies
  • The school designs and names of the panelists were made available publicly, to encourage panelists to be “circumspect” about their choices
  • Panelists were told to design programs that they could “reasonably expect to be adopted.”

 Based on the recommendations of the panels, the authors created regressions models to estimate the “base cost” per pupil (without special needs) and the additional costs associated with special needs, based on the special needs demographics of a given school.

 District costs – administration, maintenance and operations, and transportation – were added in after school models were complete. The authors used an average of two district cost amounts: (1) a “lump sum” approach, equal to the average district-level expenditures in California, and (2) an “overhead ratios” approach, that increased district expenditures proportionally to recommended increases in school expenditures. The authors admit that the former is too conservative and the latter unrealistically expensive, which was the rationale for averaging them.

 Authors adjusted for geographic cost differences and calculated the total cost per pupil at each school in the state. A “hold harmless” methodology was used so that funding could not be subtracted.

Special Features:  This study included the cost of preschool for “at-risk” children and children requiring special education.
Public Input: In developing the Goals Statement, the authors relied on existing studies of public opinion and existing policy statements from the state Board of Education
Implementation: None yet
Prepared for: Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice, Stanford University, “Getting Down to Facts” Project, which was undertaken at the request of the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence
Prepared by: American Institutes for Research: Jay Chambers, Jesse Levin, and Danielle DeLancey


Fact Sheet prepared by Matthew Samberg, April, 2007