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A reader sent me this interesting report from Pepperdine University that compares what different California school districts have spent over the years and how. The statewide study found that as school funding increased, school districts statewide actually devoted a smaller percentage of their budgets to classrooms. The San Jose Mercury News summed it up well:

Total K-12 spending increased by $10 billion over the five-year period ending June 30, 2009, from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion statewide. It rose at a rate greater than the increase in inflation or personal income, according to the study. Yet researchers found that classroom spending dipped from 59 percent of education funding to 57.8 percent over the five years.

Spending on teacher salaries and benefits dropped from 50 percent of statewide spending to 48 percent over the same period. Spending on administrators and supervisors, staff travel and conferences all increased faster than teachers’ pay.

“It’s not teachers’ salaries and benefits that are causing the financial problems in the education system,” said the study’s author, public policy professor Steven Frates.

The report is loaded with lots of data that I’m still sorting through, but I thought I’d go ahead and let my trusty readers help me look at what it says about local districts like San Diego Unified, Sweetwater and Poway. Here are a few points from the report that I found interesting:

  • San Diego Unified ranked high among large California school districts in the share of spending that went to classrooms, devoting 55.6 percent to it in the 2008-2009 school year. However, two other local districts that didn’t make it onto the big school districts list actually spent more: Poway spent 61.1 percent on classrooms while Sweetwater spent 59 percent.
  • San Diego Unified spent more per student on teacher salaries than Poway and Sweetwater, but its average teacher salaries are lower. Huh? This seemingly paradoxical set of data actually shows that historically, San Diego Unified has been more heavily staffed with teachers than neighboring districts.

Find more interesting points from the study? Shoot me an e-mail at or post your comments here on the blog.


Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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