How much money does OUSD spend?

Last week, after we launched our #OUSDBudget series, we received a lot of positive feedback from people out there trying to understand what’s going on. Not all were happy, though. This is painful for everyone – ourselves included as Oaklanders and public school parents – and our intention is to shed light on the topic, not to blame. We appreciate the hard job of District leaders and staff managing a large and complex organization faced with huge need.

We also want to recognize the outpouring of anger at the last Board meeting, reflecting the sentiments of many Oaklanders who feel wronged by the public education system. At the heart of all of this are real people working hard in the District and real students and families suffering the consequences when things don’t work well.

In order for us to have a more transparent and more productive public debate about the issue, we need to have the same information, so this installment covers a very basic question: How much money does OUSD spend each year?

Some quick stats:

  • Total: OUSD spent $705 million dollars last year. Of that, spending from the General Fund (which is the fund affected by the budget cuts) was about half a billion dollars.
  • On a per pupil basis: General Fund expenditures in 2016-2017 were $14,534 per pupil.
  • Historical comparison: OUSD’s General Fund revenues have increased 28% from 2013 to 2016.
  • Compared to other districts in the area: Overall, OUSD received 44% more funding than Fremont Unified, which has about the same enrollment (though a different student population). OUSD’s per pupil funding is among the highest of school districts in Alameda County.
  • Compared to other districts in the country: Oakland, along with the rest of California, ranks in the bottom fifth of per pupil spending, despite being richer than all but a handful of countries in the world.

In more detail: (Note: although the budget shortfall relates to this school year, we relied heavily on prior year reported financials to gather this background information, since they have been audited.)

Half a billion dollars: The “General Fund,” which is the main operating fund for the district, accounted for about three-quarters of the district’s expenditures in 2015-2016. The district spent $334 million in unrestricted funding, and $125 million from restricted funds. The Unrestricted fund within the General Fund is the part that has been the focus of the budget cuts. It’s the pool of funds that is the most flexible and it’s the basis of the state-required 2% reserve. It comprises less than half of the district’s spending, but is the pool that most schools’ day-to-day spending comes from. Restricted funds include money designated for specific programs (like Linked Learning), private grants (e.g. for school-based health centers), as well as federal Title I money and the LCFF “supplemental and concentration grants” which are intended to provide extra resources for high need students (e.g. low-income, English learner, foster youth).

$14,534 per pupil: In 2015-2016, the district had 35,348 in average daily attendance (ADA). Divide the total general fund expenditures of $515 million into that ADA and you get $14,534 per ADA. The state of CA is one of the few that funds on an ADA basis rather than enrollment, even though we obviously need to incur the expense for materials and staff for enrolled students, whether or not they happen to be sick on any given day (not to mention the cost of activities to combat chronic absenteeism, which costs the District millions per year in lost revenues).

28% increase over 3 years:  OUSD’s General Fund revenues have increased significantly over the past several years, thanks to the state’s new equity-oriented funding formula and voters approving Proposition 30 in 2012 and Proposition 55 in 2016. Three years ago (at the low point of post-recession General Fund revenues), OUSD received $401 million. The increase to over $500 million was the result of a significant increase in per pupil revenue from the state (from $11,623 to $14,426). Although OUSD’s ADA was 943 students lower, overall the district’s funding was up 28%.

More than other area districts, and many public agencies and organizations: Fremont Unified, which had about same enrollment as OUSD (33,400 ADA), had a third less General Fund expenditures in 2015-2016: only $334 million (out of $488 million total across all Funds). OUSD receives much more funding than Fremont largely because the latter’s student population is less than 30% English Language Learner and/or qualifies for Free and Reduced Price Lunches. On a per pupil basis, OUSD also received about one-fifth more money than the average district in Alameda County. For more context, OUSD’s total 2016 expenditures were a little over half that of the city of Oakland, almost double of AC Transit’s, 27 times bigger than the biggest Oakland charter organization, and almost 40 times bigger than the Oakland Museum.

Less than most districts in the country: EdSource recently broke down California’s per pupil funding. Although California’s “ranking” changes depending on the methodology, it is inevitably below the national average. If Oakland were really Brooklyn and got NY state level funding, OUSD’s budget would be over $828 million, not $500 million.

And not nearly as much as our students deserve:  What does it cost to provide a great education? Basic daycare is at least $12,000/year, tuition for private K-12 schools might be $25,000/year, and “elite” private schools can cost almost twice that. Yet our public schools, with much greater challenges to address, get significantly less per pupil. Oakland has roughly 15,000 children in private schools. If we assume $25,000 in tuition each year, that means Oakland parents are shelling out $375 million to fund private K-12 education – the equivalent of an entire unofficial school district. For a much smaller amount of funding, we could greatly improve our public school system and achieve better community integration.

Putting the budget cuts in context

With that backdrop of information about the total budget, we can begin to appreciate what it means for OUSD to cut $10 million: almost 3% of its $334 million unrestricted budget or 2% of its total General Fund…about the same amount that the district is required to have in its reserve.

Next week, we’ll delve into the question of how much money gets to our classrooms.

Until then, if you really want to go deep, here is all of the source data we pulled from, all publicly available, as well as links we pulled from.

  1. EdSource article on California’s per pupil funding:
  2. Blog on California’s funding inadequacy and how to fix it:
  3. OUSD:
    1. Budget page:
    2. Historical audit reports:
    3. Fast Facts:
  4. Other Alameda County school districts:
  5. City of Oakland budget about link:
  6. Alameda County Office of Education budget:
  7. Oakland Museum of California annual report:
  8. AC Transit budget:
  9. Education for Change annual report:
  10. Politifact analysis of California’s ranking as the 6th largest economy in the world:

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Real Talk on the #OUSDBudget

If you’re like me, you’re worried about the implications of Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) current budget shortfall. Across the city, our children already face major hurdles – lack of basic needs, housing instability and exposure to violence, not to mention the fear and anxiety stemming from the rhetoric and policies coming out of DC.

Now they’re being told they’ll no longer get to go to art class because that contract has been abruptly cancelled. Their teachers are being told not to use too much copy paper; and principals are being told it will be their fault for not adhering to the spending freeze if the district goes back into state receivership. This is unacceptable. Instead, we believe:

  • OUSD children deserve a stable and efficiently run school district that puts students first.
  • Teachers deserve to have the resources they need to do their job, which is already incredibly challenging.
  • Principals deserve to be treated as the smart and mission-oriented leaders they are.
  • The people of Oakland deserve accurate and timely information, which we are not necessarily getting.

That’s why we’re going to embark on a multipart series focused on the budget – Real Talk on the #OUSDBudget. Our intention is to help shed light on a complicated situation and suggest possible ways forward.

We fully recognize that as a state, California does not fund public education at the levels that our students deserve – but until that changes, we must do the best we can with what we have. We don’t think it’s helpful to point fingers or bemoan “what could have been.” Restoring fiscal health with the current budget shortfall will inevitably require district leadership to make hard trade-offs and unpopular decisions. We hope that more people will get informed and join the public discussion about what we as a city need to do to provide our students with what they need.

In this series, we’re hoping to provide information on the following questions:

  • How bad is it, really?
  • How can we recover?
  • How can we prevent this from happening again?

What the Experts Say

One of the best sources of information to better understand the situation are two reports by nationally recognized not-for-profit education research group Educational Resources Strategies (ERS). They dissected OUSD’s 2015-2016 spending, in comparison to similar districts around the country and across California. These reports, presented to the OUSD Board last year, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (of taxpayer money) and their results are compelling, though not entirely surprising:

  • OUSD operates too many schools for its student population – by a lot. Right-sizing to the median would require consolidating 30 schools. There are strategic reasons to want smaller schools, but there is a very real cost – and many OUSD schools are under-enrolled because families have rejected those options. Also, consolidations themselves won’t generate cost savings if poorly implemented.
  • OUSD spends more in its central office and less at school sites than comparable districts…with less-than-optimal results. This disproportionate spending is not just at the top, it’s at all levels, and holds true despite publicized efforts to reduce the size of central office over the past three years.
  • Resources are not getting to high need students equitably. OUSD essentially redistributes state LCFF per pupil funding to sites via central allocation decisions, leaving some high need students with much less than the state intended.
  • Special Education is especially costly in OUSD because of outdated programmatic approaches. To its credit, OUSD has already begun to make important changes to its Special Education delivery model – changes that are aligned with best practices nationally, are better for students, and that are more cost-effective. But these changes will take time to yield financial savings.

How Can you Get Involved: Reading, Other Resources, & Hashtags

For those of you who want to better understand the current budget situation, there are numerous existing resources and perspectives:

If you’d like to join in, please follow and begin using the hashtag #OUSDBudget. We’ll be posting our blogs at

This current fiscal setback is a reminder that we have a long way to go to creating the kind of schools we want for our children. However, we continue to believe that Oakland has the passion, talent and brilliance to create a thriving public education ecosystem for all students, anchored by a strong and stable district that supports and fosters innovative community schools. Getting through this current budget crisis will be an important step forward.

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