(Michael Short: California Watch)

There I was, sitting in a post-election briefing. The slide advanced to a pie chart of how general fund revenues for California are spent.

That’s when my mouth dropped open. Education had a slice of the pie that, well, startled me.

So I ask you, dear reader: What percentage of California’s general fund expenditures go to K-12 education? Or, if this is easier: how about K-12 plus higher education?

I did an unscientific survey around the KQED office, and I got a fascinating range of responses. Once you’re ready with a number you can click below to get the correct answers.

And yes, the total pie includes the recently approved Proposition 30 money.


In the 2012-2013 year, of every state dollar:

  • 41.4% goes to K-12 education plus another
  • 10.3% is for higher education which means
  • 51.7% total on education

Yes that’s right: slightly more than 50 percent of state expenditures go to education in California.

Now, I had known that education and health and human services were the top two expenditures in state government, but I somehow missed that education took up such a huge percentage of state expenditures. (Health and Human Services gets 29.2 percent of state funding.)

Jonathan Kaplan at the California Budget Project presented the education information at that post-election briefing. He stressed that lots of other people have no idea either, which made me feel somewhat better. He pointed me to an annual survey from the Public Policy Institute of California. Among other things, the PPIC asks this very question about state spending. Last January, only 16 percent of those surveyed correctly answered “K-12 public education” as the largest area of state spending. (Read it here, pg. 16.)

Rachel Ehlers, in the education unit at the Legislative Analyst’s Office confirmed that K-12 education gets roughly 41.4 percent of state expenditures. She says these are “general fund” monies — personal income tax, corporate income tax and sales taxes. The state has other sources of money, including bond funds and special funds. But both those types of funds are earmarked for specific purposes. We often think of bond funds for transportation, for example. “Special” funds might be something like a fishing license, which then are spent in the Fish & Game Department.

Of course, schools also get money from property taxes. Those monies are collected locally and mostly dispersed by local governments, so are not included in “total state expenditures” which are collected and spent by state government.

Still, when you add the state, local and even the federal money California gets for schools, the state’s per pupil expenditure is well below the national average.

Kaplan says that since Prop. 13 was passed in 1978, the state has provided the largest share of school spending. In pre-Prop. 13 California, local revenue was the largest share of school spending. “Schools across the state are dependent on state budgets for the largest portion of their revenue,” Kaplan says.

And as we’re all aware, the recession has taken a big toll. The California Budget Project crunched the numbers and says that this year’s revenues are projected to be almost $47 billion below the amount of money the state expected just five years ago, in 2007. That figure is “approximately equal to proposed 2012-13 spending for health and human services, corrections, higher education, resources, and environmental protection combined.” (Emphasis theirs; read it here, pg 7.)

Finally, and this was perhaps the most surprising to me of all — general fund expenditures as a share of the California economy have declined in the last few years. That’s not too surprising given the recession, but what is surprising is that those general fund expenditures are below where they were in the mid-1970s.

I wonder how many people could answer that question. State spending is what percentage of the California economy?  (See for yourself here, pg. 29.) I’ll leave that discussion for another post.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED's State of Health blog. Since 2011, she's been writing stories and editing them for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco's CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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