California’s expenditures on its correctional system and its public education systems have followed different trajectories over the last few decades. In 1970, corrections received just 3.7 percent of the state's general fund revenue, while UC and the California State University systems together received nearly 14 percent. Today, corrections accounts for almost 9 percent of California general funds, while UC and the California State University system receive 5.2 percent.

The growth in corrections spending mirrors increases in California's prison population – a result of stringent criminal policies like the three strikes law. Beginning in the 1980s, those laws resulted in a sharp increase in the number of prisons and prisoners in California, with the state leading all others in prisoner growth. More recently, the courts have mandated reductions in the prison population because of overcrowding.

In contrast to that upward trajectory, funding for education has been uneven. While spending trends in K-12 have shown a gradual increase, spending in higher education has declined, particularly for UC and CSU. As the economy recovers, mandatory minimum state funding levels ensure K-12 schools and California Community Colleges benefit from increased state revenue. Meanwhile, funding for UC and CSU remains uncertain.

Data sources: National Center for Education Statistics, California Department of Finance, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Postsecondary Education Commission, U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, California Statistical Abstract

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