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In California, the state controls not only how much funding goes to K–12 education, but also how those funds are allocated.
Out of the revenues available to education, most of the funds go to school districts to pay for the cost of operating schools that serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade. However, a large portion of the funding goes to other agencies. And some of the funds pay for services outside K–12 education such as after-school programs, preschool, and adult education.
The system of allocations involves a multilayered and interlinked network of agencies that have responsibility for administering public education in California. One way to think about this system is to picture a map of California. The California Department of Education has administrative responsibility for the entire state. Every one of the state’s 58 counties has a county office of education (COE). And then, within each county, are school districts obligated to serve all the students who live within their boundaries.
A second set of agencies has been overlaid on this structure in order to efficiently provide some select educational services. Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) and Regional Occupational Centers/Programs (ROCPs) serve specific students, often across the geographic boundaries of school districts.
Charter schools exist within the system, but the students they serve
and their "chartering agency" are not determined solely by geography.
They operate without set attendance boundaries or a predetermined
constituency. Some are affiliated with local districts and some are not.
The CDE has some responsibility for all students within the state boundaries and, to some extent, for the operation of both districts and county offices.
The department has several roles within the school finance system. It administers the numerous categorical programs created by state and federal lawmakers. It also maintains the data related to the funding that districts and county offices receive and the way those funds are spent. Although California’s elected superintendent of public instruction oversees the department, the State Board of Education acts as its policymaking body.
Funding for the CDE is not included in the minimum funding guarantee under Proposition 98 and is a separate line item in the state’s budget. In 2007–08, CDE funding was $47.1 million (or less than one-tenth of one percent of total K–12 funding).
Each of California's 58 COEs has jurisdiction over the districts in its county and has significant oversight responsibilities for these districts.
County offices have specific responsibilities regarding, in particular, fiscal oversight. An additional set of responsibilities was added in 2004 as part of the settlement of a lawsuit against the state related to the quality of school facilities, textbooks, and teachers in schools that serve low-income children.
To some degree, county offices also function like school districts. They often operate schools, usually to serve students with special needs. Many of them also provide administrative services, particularly to small school districts in the county. Some COEs are rather entrepreneurial as well, providing services for a fee to school districts and other entities.
Each of the state’s nearly 1,000 school districts is the fiscal agent responsible for governing K–12 schools within its particular geographic boundary. The bulk of K–12 education funds are allocated to school districts that in turn pay for the cost of operating schools.
About a third of districts serve all students in their boundaries from kindergarten to grade 12. In other areas, students attend grades K–8 in an elementary district and grades 9–12 in a high school district.
Because school districts are responsible for so much of the system—both in terms of funds and the sheer number of students they serve—they are often considered to be at the center of the school finance system. For a detailed explanation of how funds are allocated to districts, see the separate “Dollars to Districts” section on this site.
Although the bulk of funding pays for the education of K–12 students within regular classrooms, both the state and federal government set aside funds for two special categories of services: Special Education for students with disabilities and occupational programs that provide training to prepare students directly for the workforce.
For administering funds for Special Education and occupational programs, the state created a separate group of entities: Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) and Regional Occupational Centers/Programs (ROCPs).
Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs)
Funds for Special Education services are distributed to districts through SELPAs. The SELPA coordinates services for students with disabilities from infancy to age 22. The members of the SELPA agree on how the required services will be provided and how much each district will receive based on the programs it operates and the students it serves.
The SELPA boundary may include several school districts or simply coincide with a particular school district or county office boundary. In rare cases, a particularly large school district may have more than one SELPA.
The state and federal governments together provided about $4.3 billion in 2007–08 for Special Education. This funding—which goes first to the SELPA and then out to districts—does not cover the full cost of educating students with disabilities. Local school districts are expected to provide a share from their other revenues. For a fuller explanation of Special Education and its funding see the Special Education page on this website.
Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs)
In 2006 California had 73 ROCPs. These centers serve high school students age 16 and older and some adults. Collectively, they offer courses in more than 100 different career areas as diverse as forensic science, engineering, manufacturing, technology, automotive technology, graphic design, digital pre-press, and health care.
The ROCPs operate under one of three organizational structures: the majority are governed by county offices of education; a significant number operate under a joint powers agreement among districts; and a few are run by an individual school district. In 2007–08, state funds for ROCPs totaled $486 million.
Services For Students Outside of K–12 Classrooms
California in recent years has increased its investment in after-school programs operated by local school districts. Thanks to a voter-approved initiative (Proposition 49), funds have been permanently earmarked for these programs. State and federal support for after-school programs totaled more than $700 million in 2007–08.
California school districts and county offices also operate some programs that serve adults and others that provide services for children not yet ready for school. In 2007–08, allocations for these two purposes totaled more than $2.5 billion that the state counted as K–12 funding. Generally, school districts and county offices directly receive and administer the funds for any adult education or child care/development programs they operate. Almost 600,000 preschool and school-age children receive services through a variety of Child Care and Development and State Preschool programs. Some, but not all, of these programs are run through the public education system.
Similarly, some adult education programs are operated by unified and high school districts. A variety of other agencies, including community college districts, cities, and counties also provide adult education.