Few monetary issues draw more emotion or scrutiny than the ups and downs of governments educational expenses.

This year, the heated “invest in our kids” debate has rattled state capitols across the nation as teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona walked out of classrooms and headed to picket lines and rallies to protest low wages.

All this labor turmoil comes as California schools have been enjoying nation-leading increases in “elementary/secondary” educational spending, according to new Census Bureau data.

This report by a relatively independent arbiter — covering up to 2016 spending patterns nationwide — gives a glimpse into how California public school budgets compare with nationwide trends. It tallies taxpayer funds going to everything from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and includes charter schools if theyre school-district-funded.

Lets not forget Californias governmental budgets (handling all chores) were hammered by the Great Recession. School spending was certainly a victim, too. So some of this recent statewide surge in school outlays — which includes tracking salary, benefits (including funding for pensions), various supplies, transportation, and capital projects — is simply restoring educational spending to previous levels.

To better educate myself on educational dollars, I tossed the state-by-state census data into my trusty spreadsheet. Here is what I learned…

1. How big? California has the biggest U.S. schooling challenge — 6.22 million enrolled pupils. And thats roughly 1-in-8 of the 48.57 million pupils nationwide. And when the population is taken into consideration, Californias enrollment equals 15.8 percent of its residents. Golden State school kids share of the California population is slightly above the 15 percent nationwide norm.

2. How much? California spent $11,495 per-pupil in 2016. Thats No. 23 nationally and just below the $11,762 U.S. average. But California school expenditures were up 9.8 percent 2016 vs. 2015 — the biggest jump nationally and slightly more than triple the nations 3.2 percent average. By the way, California ranked No. 29 in spending for 2015.

3. Longer-term view? From 2011 to 2016, Californias per-pupil spending increased 26 percent in this post-recession era. Thats the No. 1 jump nationally and more than double the 10.9 percent jump nationwide. The spending splurge in those five years moved California up 13 spots from 36th place nationally, the largest surge among the states.

4. Cost per citizen? It usually takes cash to spend it, and Californias total personal income equals $54,718 per resident, 10th highest among the states and above the $48,451 U.S. average. Educations bite — the cost of schooling as a slice of income — approximates 3.4 percent of Californians total earnings. Note: 38 states spend proportionally more on schooling, by this math, and California is below the nationwide 3.8 percent average.

5. Where spending goes? Classroom instruction gets 58.6 percent of Californias overall school spending, a budgetary slice thats below the 60.9 percent spent by schools on the job of teaching nationwide. The rest goes for everything from administration efforts to day-to-day operations to construction projects and financing costs. And the much-debated California worker perquisites? Employee benefits were 23.9 percent of 2016 school spending statewide vs. 23.2 percent nationwide.

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6. Worthy investment? Heres how California ranks for basic skills among its eighth graders by the National Assessment of Educational Progress rankings. Last year, 29 states had students with better reading abilities. But in 2011, California trailed 44 states. In 2017, pupils in 33 states had better math skills than Californians vs. 44 in 2011. I guess you could say, slow progress.

7. Why the teacher strikes? When you look at national patterns in money spent on classroom instruction — salary and benefits — recent labor unrest was focused where teacher wages were low on a per-pupil basis. Arizona paid the worst in the nation in 2016, by this metric; followed by Oklahoma, second lowest; Colorado, 12th lowest; Kentucky, No. 18; and West Virginia, No. 25. By the way, using this salary-to-pupil yardstick, California teachers rank 27th least compensated — $6,033 in teacher salary and benefits per pupil. Compare that to Arizonas $3,697 or top-paid New Yorks $14,508 or a nationwide average $6,488.


California ranked as nations 5th fastest-growing economy

Southern California pay hits record highs as workers get more hours

Californias record low unemployment is far from perfect

Southern California homeownership on the rise, but still lags nation

California critics ultimate critique: He moved to Pennsylvania!

Southern California auto sales drop! Dip from peak or warning signal?

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