“California’s public-education establishment continually argues that the state ranks near the bottom in funding K-12 education. A just-released study by the U.S. Census Bureau pokes a giant hole in these claims,” writes the Pacific Research Institute’s Lance T. Izumi in the Orange County Register.

At $9,863 in current per-pupil spending, California ranks 23rd according the Census Bureau (see pp. xiii and 11). Current spending consists mainly of staff salaries and benefits, plus administration costs but excludes spending on capital, construction, and debt. When these politically sensitive figures are included California’s per-pupil spending jumps to $11,649, or 21st nationally (see p. 11).

Various special interest groups recently filed suit against the state for inadequate funding, citing spending rankings published by the National Education Association. However, even the California Department of Education presents several year’s worth of NEA California per-pupil expenditure rankings on its Web site, and the state is consistently around the middle of the pack-not at the bottom (scroll down to “Effort: Per-Pupil Expenditures”). Here are some other Census Bureau rankings California special-interests groups likely won’t cite in their lawsuit (see p. 11):

10th in federal revenue, $1,168 per pupil

11th in state revenue, $6,978 per pupil

13th in school administration spending, $655 per pupil

Or what about these statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, California ranked:

47th for fourth-grade reading

45th for fourth-grade math

49th for eighth-grade reading

48th for eighth -grade math 

The real trouble with California is that its spending priorities are out of whack. “When Californians hear complaints that virtually all states spend more than California on public education,” says Izumi, “they should bear in mind that it’s not how much states spend but how tax dollars are spent that counts.”