School Reform and School Finance

What Did Senate Bill 813 Buy?
James W. Guthrie
Policy Analysis for California Education
Allan R. Odden
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Helen H. Cagampang
University of California, Berkeley
Lawrence O. Picus
University of Southern California


California spends a huge amount of public money, more than any other state, to support K–12 grade schools. These schools now serve more than 4.8 million students, and in 1988–89 the state expects to expend almost $23 billion for their financial support.

State funding for schools represents an awesome amount of money in an absolute sense, and it occupies the largest proportion of the state's overall budget. As if these two factors alone were insufficient to draw attention to school funding, at least two other conditions have been evolving which render education finance an even more visible policy issue. First, enrollments have been expanding recently and are projected to continue to do so well into the next decade. More pupils translates to an even greater demand for financial support. Lastly, public officials, professional educators, business leaders, and citizens generally have come to understand the intensifying significance of an educated workforce in order for California to maintain a competitive position in an increasingly mobilized economy.

Thus, because of the significance of the endeavor, the large amounts of money involved, their visibility in the state's budgeting process, and the likely need for even more revenues in the foreseeable future, education has become an intensely political issue in California. Virtually every public official claims to be a proponent of schools.

However, some claim that public education needs even more money in order to achieve the expectations held for it while others contend that schools already have adequate resources and need only use them better in order to achieve the desired outcomes. When judged by the amount of rhetoric, name calling, debates, and editorials, school funding is and will likely continue to be an important public policy topic.

This paper seeks to shed added light on the topic by analyzing school financing outcomes on several dimensions. Equity and efficiency are consistently major concerns in school finance policy. Officials, educators, and citizens frequently inquire about the amount being spent: Is it enough? How much do we spend relative to other states and relative to California's past history? This paper provides answers to these questions.

In addition, policy makers repeatedly express an interest in the distributional consequences of school funding. Where do the dollars go, and who is benefiting from them? This is a particularly important issue in California in light of the 15 year history of Serrano v. Priest. This is California's school finance equal protection suit, a 1976 court decision which triggered major alterations that the legislature and the governor in the levels of school spending permitted local districts. This paper also addresses conditions of school finance equality.

Lastly, what is it that school finance dollars buy? Policy makers enacted Senate Bill 813 in 1983 in a major effort to transfer California's schools into more productive settings for student learning. A variety of education reforms were legislated in hopes that schools would become more rigorous academically. Has that happened? In fact, have added state funds bought more rigorous schooling? This topic also is addressed in this paper.

Suggested citationGuthrie, J. W., Odden, A. R., Cagampang, H. H., & Picus, L. (1988, August). School reform and school finance: What did Senate Bill 813 buy? [Report]. Policy Analysis for California Education.