In 2018, researchers with the American Institute for Research looked at California’s spending the prior school year and calculated that, to educate all the state’s K-12 students to California’s learning standards, the state would have had to spend an extra $25.6 billion over the $66.7 billion it spent that year.
That figure — essentially a cost estimate for closing the achievement gap — varied by school district. But overall, it worked out to about $16,800 per pupil, an increase of more than one-third.
In 2021, the budget for public schools and community colleges ballooned to a record-breaking $123.9 billion. But the governor, legislators, advocates, educators and experts agree that the state needs to commit even more to education, pointing to cost-of-living-adjusted rankings that place California 41st in education spending.
Education is already a massive line item, and lawmakers have been loath to make it bigger, given the traumatic cuts that had to be made during the last recession. In 2020 Californians voted down a ballot measure that could have raised billions of dollars for public schools by raising taxes on big corporations.