State Needs $20.6 Billion More in Next Decade, Professors Assert : Study Sees Mediocrity in Schools' Future

Times Education Writer

The current level of state spending for public schools will do little more than ensure continued educational mediocrity, according to an analysis released Tuesday by an independent group of education professors from the state's top universities.

With enrollment statewide growing 42% above what had been projected for this year, the state needs to provide an extra $20.6 billion over the next 10 years just to cover the basic costs of educating new students, says Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), a Berkeley-based group that monitors school conditions statewide.

Even more money will be needed for systemwide improvements, such as better textbooks, smaller classes and better-trained teachers, the group says, in order to catch up with most large industrial states that spend more per-pupil, have smaller class sizes and better test scores.

"California public schools are locked into mediocrity," said Allan R. Odden, a USC education professor who directs the Southern California PACE office.

Odden and James W. Guthrie of UC Berkeley said at a Los Angeles press conference that the state underestimated enrollment when it predicted that an average of 100,000 new pupils would enter the system each year from 1985 through the 1990s. In 1986-87, enrollment grew by 122,000, and this year 142,000 new students are expected. Total enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade, which now stands at 4.4 million, is expected to reach 6 million by 1997.

To pay for the new students, the PACE analysis says, the state will have to spend an additional $20.6 billion over the next 10 years--or double what it is now spending. The group said Gov. George Deukmejian's proposed education budget for the 1988-89 school year, which gives schools an extra $1.7 billion, represents the largest one-year increase for schools in the state's history. But $1.5 billion will be needed just to pay for new students, the report said, and next year it will take $1.7 billion just to "stay even" and cover enrollment growth costs.

Odden said the power to increase school spending rests with the state's voters to "undo some of the limitations" on school spending, such as the Gann limit on state expenditures and the Proposition 13-imposed restriction on raising local taxes.

An initiative on the June ballot would amend the Gann limit, while a separate initiative, proposed for the November ballot, would guarantee schools at least as big a portion of the total state budget as they received two years ago, when schools got 38.9% of all state funds.

Such a guarantee would prevent the hasty cutbacks many districts were forced to make last year when overall school funding fell below 1986 levels.

But PACE's Guthrie said it would be a mistake to "lock schools in" to such a formula because schools would lose money if the total state budget shrinks.

The group also found that expensive education reforms initiated in 1983--including tougher graduation requirements and longer school days--have begun to pay off and may be the reason why test scores statewide have been rising.

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