Last month, the publication Education Week released its annual “Quality Counts” report that, not surprisingly, showed once again California is at the very bottom in the nation for  per-pupil spending. California came in 49th, having spent $8,482 on each student in 2010, $3,342 below the national average. This ranking is bound to change in the coming years with the passage of Proposition 30 and the increases to education spending recently enacted by Governor Brown. Yet, even adding $2,700 per pupil by 2016-2017, as the governor has proposed, will result in California continuing to remain below the national per student spending median for the foreseeable future.

What this means for us, the citizens of California, is that we must continue to advocate for even more investment in our public schools. Our per-student spending is an embarrassment for an economy that ranks in the top 10 in the world.

But even more important than advocating for more money, we must advocate even more vociferously for efficient and effective investments in our public education systems that will lead to positive academic outcomes for students. Many states currently spend twice as much as California in terms of per-pupil spending, yet have no evidence of increased student performance to show for this investment. The lesson that we must heed is that adding more money to public education does not correlate with better results for our students.

We need to identify the schools and districts that are more efficient and effective with their dollars, learn from their best practices and replicate their success. Only programs that can produce evidence of positive outcomes should be funded.

Compare, for example, two East Bay school systems, Emeryville Unified School District and Lighthouse Community Charter Schools located in Oakland. Each of these school systems operates two schools, an elementary school and a high school. The populations of students served are similar in size and similar in terms of their socioeconomic demographics as the table below shows:

Emeryville Unified

Lighthouse Charter

K-8 Enrollment (2012-13)



9-12 Enrollment (2012-13)



Socioeconomically Disadvantaged (%)



In observing this data, one would think that these two school systems would have similar budgets. Yet, records show that Emeryville Unified will be spending $9.92 million to educate its approximately 751 students this year while Lighthouse will spend $8.22 million on its 715 students– a $1.7 million difference.  Deducting $306,000 from this sum to account for the higher number of students that Emeryville serves (36 students at $8,500) still leaves a difference of $1.4 million.

Does Emeryville get better results with this additional money? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The California Academic Performance Index, the state’s measuring stick for school academic performance, and the number of high school graduates that complete their University of California required A-G classes show that Lighthouse Community Charter Schools are producing better results for their students for less money, particularly at the high school level.

Emeryville Unified

Lighthouse Charter

K-8 API (2012-13)



9-12 API (2012-13)



Graduates (2012)



UC/CSU Eligible Graduates



2013 Budget



While this is not a strict apples to apples comparison, it does lead one to think about how our taxpayer dollars are being used by our public education system. We should be asking the tough questions and making the tough comparisons, as our state education funding continues to remain below the US average.

We should also be encouraging districts like Emeryville to learn from systems like Lighthouse so that our education dollars can go farther and everyone can create better outcomes for our students. Only then will the increased money flowing to our public schools over the next few years truly make a difference.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

About The Author

Brian Rogers is the Executive Director of the Rogers Family Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organization that is dedicated to creating high quality educational opportunities for the children of Oakland.

One Response

  1. Anna

    According to the Lighthouse Community’s website, families have to submit an application in order to be admitted to the school, and there are many more applicants than spots. Emeryville, in contrast, accepts everyone in the district, and is the default school for all residents, most especially those families that do not have the motivation, organization, resources (time or financial) and/or cultural capital to consider and choose among a broader range of choices.

    As a parent at another public school where families also have to make an affirmative choice to enroll, I know well what a huge difference it makes to the overall level of student and family engagement to be in a school where ever family has made an affirmative choice to attend.

    For this reason, comparing Lighthouse to Emeryville is not, as you say, apples to apples. In fact, I am surprised that, given my impression of the contrast between a “self-selected” school community and a “default” school community, that Emeryville manages to do as well as it does with only 20% more resources. (Although, to be honest, in my opinion as a parent, scores on the CST are not necessarily part of my definition of doing “well”– I choose a school for my child where I thought that performance on standardized tests would not be given undue emphasis.)

    That is not to say that we shouldn’t try to analyze whether Lighthouse or Emeryville is using resources wisely and efficiently. But in my opinion, this kind of op-ed is particularly un-persuasive because it seems like shoddy social science .


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