CUSD spending per student is near the bottom of San Mateo County


Posted by on Sun, October 7, 2007

Chart by Darin Boville
Chart by Darin Boville

Republished with permission from Montara Fog

Anyone who has lived in different places in the United States has no doubt noticed that spending on schools varies widely from place to place.

When I moved to San Mateo County three years ago I paid attention to this issue as it was a factor in choosing where to live—and what houses we could afford.

The chart above shows how we in the Cabrillo Unified School District rank in terms of spending per student compared to our peers in the rest of San Mateo County. (We’re the blue bar, sixth from the bottom. Click on the chart to see a larger version.) I didn’t show it here but I did compile the data for the past five years to see if Cabrillo’s ranking had changed over time—it has remained in essentially the same place over that time period.

O.K., so we are at the bottom of the chart compared to other county districts. Fair enough. But we are still well-off compared to schools in other states, right? This is California, after all, one of the nation’s wealthiest states, so well off we could, if we wanted to, form our own, separate country.

As the second chart shows, California was well below average in 2004 for per student spending (but, heck, we beat Louisiana—that’s something, isn’t it?).

Now here comes the really sad, depressing part. The more mathematically inclined of you might think, "Gee, I wonder how the ranking would change if we adjusted for cost-of-living?" That is to say, in some places in the country things cost less than in other places (obviously, right?). So a dollar spent on education in the Bay Area might not actually "buy" as much education, so to speak, as a dollar spent in Ohio, where things (most everything!) are cheaper.

You know how this is going to turn out . Just look at the states in the chart above to see who ranks below California. Louisiana, Texas, Iowa…Every one of those states is significantly (dare I say dramatically) cheaper to live in. Those states will move up on the list when you adjust for their dollar’s buying power. States with a high cost-of-living (like you-know-who) will drop on the list to account for the weak comparative value of a dollar spent in that state.

The result is that California is 51st in the country when you take into account cost of living.

Data provided by Education Data Partnership. Cost of living indices provided by Money Magazine. The crude methodology is my own invention.

Hey Darin,

That’s quite interesting. Looking at the top spending districts per student, we see places like Hillsborough, Portola Valley, and Woodside. So clearly there is an effect from the income of the parents who live in the district.

You could also look at the ratio of spending per student to median family income in the district. A poor district could presumably be devoting a higher fraction of its income to education than a rich district.

But of course that begs the question of why spending per student is higher in rich districts. After all, this is supposed to be public education, not private.

Let’s not forget that schools receive a lot of their funds from property taxes.  And when you have very affluent towns like Woodside, PV, etc where the average home price is more than twice of the Coast,  you’d expect these schools to benefit more.

Steven Hyman

Thanks for making my point that CUSD is failing, not because of lack of money nor demographic challenge.

You show five school districts that receive less money than CUSD, yet they all do better than CUSD!

Looks like CUSD has a much easier task; but fails:

English-Language Arts
Minimum Target  24.4 %

                             White    Disadvantaged    Proficient 
Cabrillo Unified               49%        39%            23.4 -- FAILING!
Jefferson Elementary           06%        51%            37.6%
South San Francisco Unified    14.5%      41%            33.3%        
San Bruno Park Elementary      34%        37%            36.2%        
Pacifica                       55%        17%            36.8%
Millbrae Elementary            27%        19%            44.0%

The thing more unrestricted money would do for CUSD, is to allow it to completely withdrawal from T1 funding, as is the case with the District’s claim for Farallone View Elementary.

I am not going to support a parcel tax for the purpose to allow CUSD to completely ignore the needs of half of our children; their education and their futures. That would be morally wrong!

Ken Johnson

Hey Ken,

Nice data!

One thing interesting (unusual, I think) about our district is that the demographic groups “disadvantaged” and “Hispanic” are essentially the same groups. Is that true for the other districts you cite above?

To me the big obstacle is language skill. According to the tests only a tiny handful of kids at Farallone View (for example) are not “proficient” in English (i.e. are in the Language learner demographic category). But I know from my first-hand experiences there over the last three years, and know from other parents who have interacted and volunteered in the classrooms, that the “language gap”—combined with cultural issues—is a much bigger hurdle than the tests reveal.

So I do think demographics are a big factor and do not understand why you think they are not. I’m not saying they are the *only* factor (I don’t know enough to say) nor am I saying that there is no fault at the board level or staff level (I don’t know enough to say).

Cabrillo has about 50% Hispanic kids, most seem to be from recently immigrated families or illegals. Please compare that to the other districts…

I’m still puzzled why you don’t see demographics as a significant factor—it seems we might disagree on the strength of it as a factor or whether there are other factors, but to dismiss it as a factor seems odd…