What has “Doomsday” Education Spending in California Wrought: Higher Graduation Rates and Test Scores

After what public school advocates have called a decade of “disinvestment in California public education” and predicted every kind of doomsday scenario for California kids–consider what the moderate spending cuts have wrought–test scores and graduation rates are up.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office explains how California K-12 schools have cut spending in the last three years:

Total expenditures (excluding capital outlay projects) dropped by $3.3 billion between 2007-08 and 2010-11, which equates to a statewide average reduction of $565, or 4.7 percent, per pupil. (While statewide data are not yet available for 2011-12, our survey responses indicate about half of districts made additional reductions to per-pupil expenditures in the current year.) The figure shows the most significant spending change has been to certificated staff salaries-the largest operational expense in district budgets. Certificated salary expenditures have decreased by $2.3 billion, including a $1.4 billion drop between 2008-09 and 2009-10. As discussed below, districts have reduced these costs both by employing fewer teachers and administrators and by having them work fewer days.

California Graduation Rates UP

The new data is based on a system that tracks students from the time they enter ninth grade, even if they transfer to another public school in California. It’s the second year the tracking system was used, which allowed a comparison with 2010 figures. School districts in Los Angeles County racked up a graduation rate of 71.6 percent in 2011, a 1.1 point increase from the prior year. The dropout rate improved from 18.9 percent in 2010 to 15.7 percent in 2011, figures show.Statewide, 76.3 percent of students who started ninth grade in 2007 graduated with their class in 2011, a uptick of 1.5 percent. The dropout rate dipped 2.2 points to 14.4 percent.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a conference call. “We want 85 to 90 percent (graduation rates) in the future.” Torlakson noted gains statewide among Hispanic and African-American students, as well as English-learners. The improvements were especially noteworthy, he said, given budget cuts that resulted in larger class sizes, shortened school calendars and limited summer school offerings.

California Student Achievement UP

California’s students continue to steadily improve their performance across the board, with a larger proportion than ever scoring proficient or higher on the 2011 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program exams in English-language arts, mathematics, science, and history-social science, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced.

The percentage of students in grades two through eleven scoring at the proficient level and above increased approximately 19 percentage points between 2003 and 2011. The one-year increase in 2011 was 2 percentage points.

Between 2003 and 2011, the increase in the percentage of students in grades two through seven taking the grade-level mathematics CSTs and achieving the proficient level and above reached double digits: grade five, 28 percentage points; grade four, 26 percentage points; grade three, 22 percentage points; grade seven, 20 percentage points; grade six, 19 percentage points; and grade two, 13 percentage points. During the same time period, the increase in the percentage of students achieving the proficient level and above on the CST for Algebra I and Summative High School Mathematics also reached double digits, with an increase of 11 percentage points and 12 percentage points respectively.