The Great Schools Squeeze

Don’t squeeze your kids too hard as you send them off to another school year, because the state of California is already squeezing your kids hard enough to hurt their future.

Call it The Great California School Squeeze. The state is stuck in a nasty school funding paradox: Even though our school districts never have had higher funding levels than they do right now, many districts face financial peril.

Why? Because The Squeeze is a torture machine with three ratchets.

First, escalating payments and obligations for retirement benefits are growing so fast (more than 100 percent in this decade in many districts) that they gobble up most of the rising education funding all by themselves. That leaves little for today’s students and teachers.

Second, with California’s birth rate at a record low, the number of students is stagnant in some districts and declining in others. Since school funding is granted on a per-student basis, fewer students means less funding, even at the higher rates.

Third, the state is pressuring schools to take expensive new measures to address major social problems — including shortages of college graduates and systemic inequality that leaves poorer young people lagging. Elaborate new state measurement systems for schools go far beyond test scores to assess everything from equity to school discipline. A new funding formula that gives more money to poorer schools has created pressure to eliminate achievement gaps.

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