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  Research: Education  

K-12 Public Schools and Students (2001-2002)
K-12 Public School Teachers (2001-2002)
K-12 Private Schools
K-12 Public and Private School Student Academic Performance
State School Report Card
blue line


School Choice Status

  • Public school choice: Interdistrict/voluntary and intradistrict/mandatory
  • State constitution: Blaine amendment
  • Charter school law: Established 1992
    Strength of law: Strong
    Number of charter schools in operation (2005): 533
    Number of students enrolled in charter schools (2005): 181,928
  • Publicly funded private school choice: No
  • Home-school law: Low regulation

K-12 Public Schools and Students (2002-2003)

  • Public school enrollment : 6,353,667
  • Students enrolled per teacher (2001-2002): 20.5
  • Number of schools (2000-2001): 8,757
  • Number of districts: 990
  • Current expenditures: $47,983,402,000
  • Current per-pupil expenditure: $7,552
  • Amount of revenue from the federal government: 9.9%

K-12 Public School Teachers (2002-2003)

  • Number of teachers: 313,330
  • Average salary: $55,693

K-12 Private Schools (2001-2002)

  • Private school enrollment: 655,502
  • Number of schools: 3,508
  • Number of teachers: 47,033

K-12 Public and Private School Student Academic Performance

  • NAEP test results:

NAEP Tests
California Student

State (National)
2005 Math
Scale = 0-500

State (National)
2005 Reading
Scale = 0-500



4th Grade

8th Grade

4th Grade

8th Grade

Average Scale Score

230 (237)

269 (278)

207 (217)

250 (260)


4% (5%)

5% (6%)

5% (7%)

2% (3%)


24% (30%)

17% (23%)

17% (23%)

19% (26%)


43% (44%)

35% (39%)

29% (33%)

39% (42%)

Below Basic

29% (21%)

43% (32%)

50% (38%)

40% (29%)

  • SAT weighted rank (2003): 12th out of 25 states and the District of Columbia
  • ACT weighted rank (2003): N/A
  • ALEC Academic Achievement Ranking: 36th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia
    View ALEC Report Card on American Education

California offers intradistrict open enrollment, allowing students to enroll in a public school of choice within their district. With permission from the school board and principal, a high school student may enroll in college courses for high school and postsecondary credit.[1] Low-income children can attend a school of choice with the help of tuition scholarships provided by several private scholarship foundations.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity implemented a voucher program in Alum Rock, California. Designed by Harvard University professor Christopher Jencks, the program would have given students in Alum Rock's predominately low-income, minority schools a voucher to attend any participating public or private school. To participate, schools would have had to take the voucher as full funding and provide parents with information about the school's academic performance and programs. Because of fierce opposition by the teachers unions, the program was reduced to a program of limited public school choice and eventually abandoned.[2]

In 1992, then-Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 1448, the Charter School Act.[3] The law was amended in 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003.[4] As it stands, the act permits the establishment of 650 charter schools and raises the cap by 100 schools for each subsequent academic year. Local school boards, county boards of education and the California State Board of Education may authorize a charter. Charter schools receive 100 percent of the public schools' per-pupil funding. Teachers in charter schools must be certified.[5]


Under a pair of bills passed in 1993--Assembly Bill 1114 and A.B. 19--parents have the right to transfer their children to other public schools within the district and outside of the district, subject to limitations of space or racial balance policies. Interdistrict transfers are limited to districts that elect to participate.[6]


Publicly funded private school choice became a major political issue in 1993 when Proposition 174 was placed on the ballot. This proposition would have amended the state constitution to provide vouchers for families to enroll their children in public, private, or parochial schools.[7] The initiative faced stiff opposition from the California Teachers Association, which spent $12.4 million in a successful effort to defeat it.[8]


During the 1999 legislative session, S.B. 882 was introduced to provide vouchers to students in poorly performing schools. Another bill, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 20, would have allowed students to receive vouchers for private school tuition. Both bills died in committee.[9]


In 2000, San Juan Capistrano District Administrator Margaret LaRoe sought the authority to turn the entire district into a charter school district. LaRoe argued that independence from state regulations would enable districts to use their funds in the way that best meets their needs and would allow superintendents and school boards to focus on monitoring and supporting charter schools.[10] The Capistrano proposal received support from an unusual alliance that included Republican State Senator Bill Morrow and the California Teachers Association, which supported the effort because it guaranteed that the district would remain unionized.[11] Nevertheless, legislation to implement the proposal died in committee.[12]


In 2000, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper sponsored Proposition 38, a voter initiative to provide parents, regardless of income, with universal vouchers worth $4,000 per child for use at any public or private school. As many as 6.6 million children would have been eligible for these vouchers. Draper spent $23 million to gain support for the measure. The California State Board of Education contributed $26.3 million in opposition.[13] A June poll found public opinion to be split, with 39 percent of respondents in favor of the initiative and 39 percent against it.[14] On election day, the proposition was defeated.


Private scholarships continue to attract parents. In 1998, the Children's Scholarship Fund (CSF), a $100 million foundation, selected Los Angeles and San Francisco as two of 40 "partner cities" that would receive matching donations for private scholarships to help low-income students attend a school of choice.[15]


In 1999, the Independent Institute began offering need-based and merit-based tuition scholarships to students in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties in amounts of up to 75 percent of tuition or a maximum of $1,500.[16] The institute awarded 238 scholarships for the 2002-2003 school year.[17]


In 2000, the Catholic Education Foundation announced that it would award $4.5 million in scholarships to nearly 4,700 children from disadvantaged families enrolled in Roman Catholic schools in the fall of 2001.[18]


S.B. 740, signed by the governor on October 14, 2001, reduced funding for charter schools offering home-based instruction. The law created the Charter School Facility Grant Program, providing funds for rent and lease costs for charter schools in low-income areas.[19]


Then-Senator Ray Haynes (R) sponsored S.B. 715, which would have required teachers in public schools to send their children to public schools. A poll conducted by the teachers association found that a third of teachers who have school-age children send their children to private schools.[20] Nevertheless, the bill was strongly criticized by the state's largest teachers union. "In their campaign to defeat school vouchers for all California families," noted Haynes, "the teachers' union argued that vouchers would destroy the public school system." Haynes's bill failed to move out of committee.

During the 2001 session, a tax credit bill, A.B.1625, was introduced to allow individuals to receive a dollar-for-dollar credit for donations to a nonprofit scholarship organization that supports low-income children. The bill died in committee.[21]


In May 2001, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Education for instituting regulations on charter schools that were not in the law and that violate the intent of the Charter Schools Act. The suit contended that the department forced charter schools to discard their own accounting systems and use the more costly and inefficient reporting systems used by the public schools. On April 11, 2002, a Sacramento County Superior Court struck down the regulations instituted by the Department of Education.[22]


The Charter School Facility Grant Program was amended in 2002 by S.B. 2039. The state now provides funds for facilities, rent, and lease costs to charter schools where 70 percent or more of the students are eligible for the free lunch program.[23]


A.B. 1625, a tax credit bill from 2001, was modified and reintroduced. The amended bill would have given taxpayers a credit worth 50 percent of their donations to a tuition scholarship organization. The bill died in committee.[24]


According to a 2002 California State University study, California Charter Schools Serving Low SES Students: An Analysis of the Academic Performance Index, the state's charter schools were more effective than traditional public schools in increasing academic achievement for low-income and at-risk students. Charter schools with at least half of their students participating in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program improved at a rate of 22 percent, while traditional public schools improved at a 19 percent rate. Charter schools with 75 percent participation improved at a rate of 28 percent, compared with 24 percent in the other public schools.[25]


Parents of home-schoolers in Sonoma County were notified in April 2002 that their children would be deemed truant if they were not enrolled in a public or private school and that the Sonoma County Office of Education would stop providing the form that parents must file to homeschool their children.[26] Several months later, the California Department of Education told parents that they could not homeschool their children unless they had a professional teaching credential and that they would have to enroll their children in a school or risk having them considered truant.[27] Delaine Eastin, then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction, declared that home-schooling was illegal and has called for the state legislature to clarify the status of home schools. The law requires only that home-schooling parents submit a form designating their home school as a private school.[28](72) In 2003, under the new leadership of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, the Department affirmed the legality of home-schooling and removed negative comments about the option from its Web site.[29]


In 2003, researchers published several groundbreaking studies revealing the effectiveness of California’s charter schools. A study by the RAND Corporation, Charter School Operations and Performance: Evidence from California, found California charter school students perform at least as well academically as their traditional public school peers. This is notable, since charter schools receive less funding than public schools, typically enroll more academically challenged students, and tend to have less experienced teachers. The study also found that students in new charter schools (as opposed to converted public schools) perform slightly better than those in traditional public schools.[30]


“The Performance of California Charter Schools” by Margaret Raymond, Ph.D., of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found students at California’s elementary charter schools experienced slightly higher academic growth than their traditionally schooled peers between the years 1999-2001. Middle school charter school students showed annual improvement between 1999 and 2002 but average growth each year was significantly lower than for traditional public schools. Charter high school students, however, experienced almost twice as much academic growth between 1999 and 2002 as their counterparts.[31]


The Charter Schools Development Center (CSDC) released a report showing that students at five-year-old state charter schools were doing better on average than other public school students on state tests. The average Academic Performance Index base score for charter schools was almost 20 points higher than the public schools' average score.[32]


A.B.1464, introduced in the 2003-2004 session, would allow more individuals and organizations to establish charter schools and would permit both universities and nonprofit organizations to approve charter applications. The bill was referred to the Assembly Education Committee, but received no further action.[33]


A.B. 349, a voucher bill introduced in 2003 by Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta), would create the Cal Grant for Kids Pilot Program in the Compton Unified School District (a similar program exists for college students).[34] Vouchers would be made available for students to attend any school, public or private, in the Compton district. The bill died in the Assembly Education Committee.[35]


The governor signed into law A.B. 1137, which specifies the oversight responsibilities of chartering entities, mandates performance standards for charter renewal, and provides for the inclusion of charter schools in categorical block grants. He also signed into law S.B. 15, which made changes to charter school facilities funding.[36]


In January 2004, The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), which conducts nonpartisan policy analysis for the California legislature, issued recommendations in “Assessing California's Charter Schools.” These include removing the cap on the number of charter schools, restructuring fee policies and funding streams, allowing school districts to opt out of authorizing while permitting other authorizers to charter, and by promoting stronger accountability measures.[37]

Developments in 2005

In May 2005, researchers found that "classroom-based" California charter schools (as opposed to virtual schools) were 33 percent more likely to meet targets for improvement set in the state's Academic Performance Index (API) than traditional public schools. In addition, charter schools outperformed noncharters at all grade levels.[38] In his budget submitted in January, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated funds for charter school facility grants, but in his May revision, he inserted $9 million in one-time grants. An additional $9 million was included in the revision for the matching federal charter school facilities incentive grants program.[39]


State Choice Laws: See Education Commission of the States

Position of the Governor/Composition of the State Legislature
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, supports public school choice and limited school vouchers.[40] Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

State Contacts

Association of Christian Schools International, Northern California/Hawaii Regional Office
Rohn J. Ritzema, M.A., Regional Director
9581 Calvine Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95828
Phone: (916) 681-8451
Fax: (916) 681-8452

Association of Christian Schools International, Southern California Regional Office
Jerry Haddock, Ed.D.
731 N. Beach Blvd., Suite 210
La Habra, CA 90631-3659
Phone: (562) 694 -4791
Fax: (562) 690-6234

California Charter Schools Association
Caprice Young, CEO and President
818 West 7th Street, Suite #910
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Phone: (213) 244-1446
Fax: (213) 244-1448

California Department of Education
Linda Wyatt, Education Program Consultant
1430 N Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 319-0800

California Parents for Educational Choice
Alan Bonsteel M.D., President
294 Cecilia Way
Tiburon, CA 94920
Phone: (415) 389-8262
Fax: (415) 389-8263

California State CAPE
Dr. Ronald Reynolds, Executive Director
15500 Erwin St. #303
Van Nuys, CA 91411
Phone: 818-781-4680
Fax: 818-781-4680

Capitol Resource Institute
Karen England, Executive Director
1414 K Street
Suite 200
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 498-1940
Fax: (916) 448-2888

Catholic Education Foundation
Kathleen H. Anderson, Executive Director
3424 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010-2202
Phone: (213) 637-7475
Fax: (213) 637-5901

Center for the Study of Popular Culture
David Horowitz, President
4401 Wilshire Boulevard
4th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90010
Phone: (323) 556-2550

Charter Schools Development Center
Eric Premack, Co-Director
7750 College Town Drive, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95826
Phone: (916) 278-6069
Fax: (916) 278-4094

Christian Home Educators Association of California
P.O. Box 2009
Norwalk, CA 90651-2009
Phone: (800) 564-2432

Claremont Institute
Brian Kennedy, President
937 Foothill Boulevard
Suite E
Claremont, CA 91711
Phone: (909) 621-6825
Fax: (909) 626-8724

Golden State Center for Public Policy Studies
Eloise Anderson
1127-11th Street
Suite 206
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 446-7924
Fax: (916) 446-7990

Independent Institute
David J. Theroux, President
100 Swan Way, Suite 200
Oakland, CA 94621
Phone: (510) 632-1366
Fax: (510) 568-6040

National Home Education Network (NHEN)
Christine Webb, Media Contact
Phone: 503-647-2992
Fax: 503-647-3285

Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy
Lance Izumi, Director
Education Studies Unit
1414 K Street, Suite 200
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 448-1926
Fax: (916) 448-3856

Reason Public Policy Institute
3415 South Sepulveda Boulevard
Suite 400
Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone: (310) 391-2245
Fax: (310) 391-4395

San Francisco Independent Scholars
Ann Fry, Program Manager
755 Sansome Street
Suite 450
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: (415) 989-0833
Fax: (415) 989-2411

Southern California Children's Scholarship Fund
Erica Macias, Program Director
626 Wilshire Blvd
Suite 515
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Phone: (213) 689-8909
Fax: (213) 689-8910

State Policy Network
Tracie Sharp, President
PO Box 5208
Richmond, CA 94805-5208
Phone: (510) 965-9700
Fax: (510) 965-9701

The BASIC Fund
Eileen Murphy, Administrative Director
268 Bush Street
Suite 2717
San Francisco, CA 94104
Phone: (415) 986-7221
Fax: (415) 986-5358

The Guardsmen Scholarship Fund
Elizabeth Castaing, Scholarship Administrator
340 Brannan St, Suite305
San Francisco, CA 94107-1836
Phone: (415) 856-0939
Fax: (415) 856-0949

The Hoover Institution
Williamson M. Evers, Research Fellow
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-6010
Phone: (650) 723-1754
Fax: (650) 723-1687

State School Report Card


California Department of Education
Web site:

Education Data Partnership
Web site:
Web site:

School Wise Press
Web site:

Just for the Kids

Web site:

Web site:

[1] Education Commission of the States, "Postsecondary Options: Dual/Concurrent Enrollment," July 2001.

[2] Isabel V. Sawhill with Shannon L. Smith, "Vouchers for Elementary and Secondary Education," Brookings Institution, August 5, 1998.

[3] EdSource, "Charter Schools in California: Public Education by a New Set of Rules," November 1999, at

[4] Ibid. See also California Department of Education, "Update of Recent Charter School Legislation," at

[5] Center for Education Reform, "Charter School Legislation:Profile of California's Charter School Law," 2001, at

[6] Kristi Hein, "Getting the Public School You Want: School Choice and the Law," School Wise Press, 1997, at

[7] Marquette University, Virgil C. Blum Center for Parental Freedom in Education, Educational Freedom Report, Trial Issue No. 2, September 20, 1993.

[8] Sandy Banks and Stephanie Chavez, "NEWS ANALYSIS: School Voucher Threat Gives Impetus for Reform Education," The Los Angeles Times, November 8, 1993, p. A1.

[9] See National School Boards Association Web site at

[10] Dion Haynes, "Districts Seek to Join Charter School Movement," The Chicago Tribune, June 2, 2000, p. 4.

[11] Hanh Kim Quach, "An Unusual Alliance Could Help Capistrano Become a Charter District," Orange County Register, August 1, 2000, p. B1.

[12] Hanh Kim Quach and Keith Sharon, "Speedy Charter-District Bill Fails," Orange County Register, August 25, 2000, p. B1.

[13] "Election 2000: Californians Take Initiative(s)," USA Today, November 8, 2000, at

[14] Chris Burnett, "Voters Are Indecisive on Voucher Initiative," Contra Costa Times, June 30, 2000, p. A11.

[15] Press release, Children's Scholarship Fund, September 28, 1998.

[16] See Independent Institute Web site at

[17] Ibid.

[18] Catholic Education Foundation, "Foundation Announces $4.5 Million in Scholarships," May 31, 2000, at

[19] Education Commission of the States, "Charter School Legislation, 2001," at

[20] Wyatt Haupt, "Teachers' Association Blasts Proposal by Haynes," Californian North County Times, March 22, 2001.

[21] See National School Boards Association Web site at

[22] "Legal Action," Heritage Foundation Insider, May 2, 2002, at

[23] California State Assembly, 2001-2002 Session, S.B. 2039.

[24] See National School Boards Association Web site at

[25] Center for Education Reform, "Achievement Gains Found at California Charter Schools: Disadvantaged Children Benefit More from Charter Schools," CER Press Alert, March 11, 2002.

[26] Barbara Curtis, "County Tries to Limit Home Schooling," Press Democrat, April 25, 2002, p. B7.

[27] Ellen Sorokin, "California Warns Home Schoolers," The Washington Times, August 21, 2002, p. A4.

[28] Lance T. Izumi, "California's Attack on Home Schooling," Pacific Research Institute, Capital Ideas, Vol. 7, No. 30 (July 31, 2002).

[29] Home School Legal Defense Foundation, “California Department of Education Changing Position on Homeschooling,” Legal News Update, June 11, 2003, available at (August 19, 2004).

[30] Ron Zimmer et al, Charter School Operations and Performance: Evidence from California (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2003), available at

[31] Margaret E. Raymond, “The Performance of California Charter Schools,” The Hoover Institution/Stanford University, June 2003, available at

[32] Charter School Development Center, "Veteran Charter Schools Outperform Non-Charters on API," April 2003, at

[33] California State Assembly, 2003-2004 Session, A.B. 1464.

[34]George A. Clowes, "School Choice Roundup," Heartland Institute, May 1, 2003, and California State Assembly, 2003-2004 Session, A.B. 349.

[35] California State Assembly, 2003-2004 Session, A.B. 349, and Carl Ingram, "Bill Offers Test Run for School Choice," The Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2003.

[36] Education Commission of the States, “Recent State Policies/Activities,” August 2004, at

[37] Legislative Analyst Office Report, “Assessing California’s Charter Schools,” January 20, 2004, at
[38] EdSource, "How Are Charter School Performing?," May 2005.

[39] Governor’s Budget, May Revision 2005-2006, available at (June 15, 2005) and Branche Jones and Colin Miller, “Capitol Update,” The Charter Journal, June 2005, p. 10.
[40] On the Issues, “Arnold Schwarzenegger on Education,” at (July 9, 2004).


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