This week, EdSource released an analysis of California spending on education with a breakdown to determine how the state ranks in per capita allocation for schools.  John Fensterwald of Educated Guess/TopEd gave us permission to reprint his take on the data:

Does California’s  school spending rank 28th or 43rd among the states? It depends if you factor in the relative cost of labor.

California’s per capita K-12 spending was above the national average, but its spending per student was $591 below the national average. Can both be true? Yes.

People will cite various figures and rankings on California’s school spending, depending on whether they want it to appear terrible or tolerable. In its latest report, How California Ranks, the non-partisan think tank EdSource makes sense of the numbers and puts them in context. The only problem is that the report uses figures for 2007-08, the latest school year available and the last year before the economic downtown that has hit California about the hardest in the nation. So the rankings will only get worse.

Readers have probably seen some of the data before — in this blog and elsewhere. How California Ranks is useful in explaining seeming contradictions. Except where noted, all of the following figures are for 2007-08:

Student spending: California spent $9,706 per student  from all sources of revenue (excluding capital expenditures). That was $591 less than the national average of $10,297 and $7,088 less than No. 1 New York’s $16,794 (correction: New Jersey was number 1 with $17,620). California ranked 28th among the states. But when adjusted for the average salary costs in each state, using a Comparable Wage Index developed by a Texas A&M professor and cited by EdWeek’s annual Quality Counts survey, the ranking drops to 43rd. Since about two-thirds of a district’s costs go to salaries, with an additional 15 percent for benefits,  the labor-adjusted figure is a fair measure.

Teacher salaries: At $65,808, California’s average teacher salary was the highest. Adjusted for labor costs, using the Comparable Wage Index,  it falls to $60,020. It’s still the second highest but somewhat closer to the national average. California is 50th in the nation in terms of teacher to student ratio.

Capacity to spend on education: California had  $242,011 in personal income per student. That ranked 20th in the nation and was $3,356 above the national average.

Per capita spending: California actually spent 6 percent more than the national average per state resident on K-12 education. This seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact that California has a higher proportion of children to adults, so the spending is spread out over proportionally more students.

Local and state taxes: In 200-07, California was 14th in the nation in taxes it collected –  11.4 percent of personal income, mainly through  its relatively high personal income tax. But the $37 per $1,000 of personal income spent on K-12 schools ranked 39th. That’s because it spent proportionately more on prisons, police and fire protection (third highest in the nation), and on public health than other states.

Take note: California is 50th in the nation in class size or teacher to student ratios.  Our schools in the Santa Cruz City Schools district fare better, but only because our community approved parcel taxes to support small class sizes (and libraries, counselors and the arts).