Archive of Mike Laursen's 2004 campaign for California Senate

Vote Laursen Libertarian for California Senate District 13

California Schools

The State of California has a highly-centralized public school system in which property taxes for education are gathered into a single pot at the state level and redistributed to local school districts.

The Serrano v. Priest decision, in 1971, found that there were inequalities in per-student spending among various California school districts. Serrano v. Priest was in appeal for several years, but by 1978 the California Supreme Court ruled that the per-student spending inequality violated the California constitution's equal protection clause, and that the state must take control of the collection of property taxes earmarked for school funding and distribute them so that there would be no more than $100 in variation in per-student spending across all K-12 school districts in the state. (This limit has since been adjusted to a requirement of no more than $350 in variation.)

Serrano v. Priest contributed to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. The state legislature was about to pass a large property tax increase to pay for increased per-student spending state-wide, but voters in school districts which had directly benefited from higher public school taxes no longer saw a reason to support higher taxes.

Proposition 98 is the third big piece of the puzzle. It guarantees a base level of educational funding. Today, a little over half of the state budget is spent on public education.

Over the years, in addition to the basic per-student allocation, a system of additional "categorical" allocations has evolved.

In the last few years, the state has been experimenting with charter schools. The state limits the number of charter schools that are allowed to exist, but this limit is increased every year. Charter schools are exempted from many of the regulations that regular public schools are subject to, but are held to higher performance standards. However, regulation of charter schools is growing.

Mike Laursen: "The Importance of Education" [PDF 405 KB], Santa Clara Libertarian, May 2004

Mike Laursen talks about how the California public school system has become too centralized and proposes a moderate libertarian approach to reform.

CPEC: California Parents for Educational Choice

An excellent source for parents, or anybody else, interested in increasing parental choice in California schools. This is the non-partisan group that broke the story, buried in California Department of Education statistics, that California has a 33% public high school dropout rate (23% in Santa Clara County).

This article by a CPEC director, Carl L. Brodt, analyzes what it would take to pass a school voucher initiative in California:
"After the Derailment: A Californian looks at the Future of School Vouchers in his State" [PDF 232 KB]

Deb Kollars: "Paying for Schools: A series on how California pays for its schools", The Sacramento Bee:

This series of articles is a good place to start if you want to understand California's public education system.

Ed-Data: California's School Finance System: A Guide

This primer gives basic facts about the California K-12 system.

California Constitution, Article 13A (Tax Limitation)

The actual text of Proposition 13

Jon Coupal, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: "Proposition 13 Anniversary Results in Retelling of Myths"

On the popular confusion of the effects of Serrano v. Priest with the effects of Proposition 13

Robert Lawson, Buckeye Institute: "Could DeRolph lead to an Ohio tax revolt?"

How Serrano v. Priest led to the Proposition 13 "tax revolt"

Public Policy Institute of California: "Changes in State and Local Public Finance Since Proposition 13" [PDF 37 KB]

A study of the amount of control various levels of government have over their funds. County governments controlled 50% of their funds in 1978. They controlled only 20% in 1995.

Public Policy Institute of California: "Has School Finance Reform Been Good for California?" [PDF 27 KB]

William A. Fischel: "How Judges Are Making Public Schools Worse", City Journal

Has some background on the origins of Serrano v. Priest.

D. Roderick Kiewietx: "The Demise of California's Public Schools Reconsidered", Engineering and Science

An interesting analysis of Proposition 13, Serrano, etc. that concludes that California spends less on education relative to other states because incomes have equalized relative to other states.

U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce: "No Child Left Behind" Fact Sheet

Summarizes Federal expenditures on the "No Child Left Behind" Act.