Legal Update on Cayla J. v. State of California

This month, Governor Newsom released his proposed state budget for 2024-25. The $291.5 billion budget proposal sets aside $76.5 billion in state funds for K-12 education. This amount exceeds the proposed budgeted costs for transportation ($19.55 billion); corrections and rehabilitation ($18.12 billion); general government ($10.68 billion); legislative, judicial, and executive agencies ($10.72 billion); natural resources ($8.63 billion); and environmental protection ($4.86 billion) combined.

When you add over $50 billion in additional funding that Newsom’s budget counts on, this brings total proposed K-12 education spending to $126.8 billion in California. This amounts to “$23,519 per pupil when accounting for all funding sources, according to the Governor’s Budget Summary. Budget figures will be adjusted as revenue updates roll in, and the governor is required to present a revision to his January budget in May. The legislature must then pass a budget bill by June 15th.

The two major features of education funding in California are Proposition 98 and the Local Control Funding Formula. Proposition 98 is an amendment to the California Constitution which guarantees minimum funding levels for K-12 education. The Local Control Funding Formula serves as the way most of the funding is distributed. It largely relies on average daily attendance for a district, as well as enrollment of low-income and English-learner students. But plummeting enrollment has been a problem for California public schools in recent years, and even as transitional kindergarten has been phased in, public enrollment is down by 6 percent from 2017 to 2023. Meanwhile, education spending increased by 40 percent during that time frame.

Regrettably, the state doesn’t have much to show for its increase in spending. The government’s response to COVID imposed many challenges to students’ academic progress, and the response to learning loss is one reason for the steep increase in education spending. But the spending hasn’t solved the issue; public school reading and math scores across grades are still lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Meanwhile, Florida’s per-pupil spending is about half of California’s, yet their students outperform California students in math and reading.

Education expert Dr. Lance Izumi said last week that more accountability is needed: “We can’t go on… spending all these billions of dollars, and then getting kids who are not prepared for college, not prepared for the workplace… because they were never given the foundational knowledge and skills that would allow them to succeed.”

Izumi says that while learning recovery programs in California — which would get $13 billion in funds under the proposed budget — sound great, these programs lack a way to substantively measure whether student achievement improves. These learning recovery programs lack “student outcome targets,” which are tangible goals for academic improvement.

Izumi writes, “It therefore appears that the real purpose…is to keep tax dollars flowing to failed public schools, not to address the needs of students who are being failed by those schools… How money is spent, not how much, is the key.”

Izumi is right. If Newsom believes that these funds will improve student outcomes, why not implement mechanisms to measure these outcomes, and allow state leaders to make adjustments if the programs prove ineffective?

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