Understanding Property Taxes: How They Fund Education and Impact Communities in California

Understanding Property Taxes: How They Fund Education and Impact Communities in California

Published by Kartik Subramaniam

Reading Time : 6 minutes

Property taxes and schools

Understanding how local education is funded in California is not just crucial, it's empowering for homeowners, parents, voters, and even those in real estate license schools. One of the key components of this funding comes from property taxes. I wanted to write an article to explain how property taxes contribute to local education funding, what that means for your community, and why every Californian should be informed. By understanding this, you gain the power to influence and shape your community's educational landscape.

Understanding Property Taxes

Property taxes are levied on all real estate by governments and primarily used to fund various local services, including schools, roads, and public safety. For homeowners, understanding property taxes is crucial as it directly impacts their financial obligations and property values. In California, property taxes are calculated based on the assessed value of your property, with rates varying by location but typically set at around 1% of the assessed value due to Proposition 13, which was passed in 1978.

The Connection Between Property Taxes and Education Funding

Allocation of Funds

A significant portion of property taxes are allocated to public schools. The exact percentage can vary depending on the municipality and the community's needs. Generally, these funds are used to cover expenses such as:

  • Teacher salaries
  • School supplies
  • Building maintenance and repairs
  • Technology upgrades
  • Extracurricular activities

Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)

In 2013, California implemented the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), significantly changing how state education funds are distributed to public schools. LCFF aims to provide a more equitable, student-focused approach to school funding and increases the importance of local property taxes as they contribute to the base grants that every school receives.

Before 2013, all public schools in California got money from the state based on a system that some people thought was confusing and unfair. In 2013, California started using a new system called the Local Control Funding Formula, or LCFF for short, to make things more fair.

Here's how LCFF works:

  • More Money Where It's Needed: LCFF ensures that schools receive money based on their students' specific needs. Schools with more students who need extra help (like those learning English as a second language, coming from low-income families, or being foster children) receive more money. This helps ensure that all students have a fair chance at a good education.
  • Local Control: Under LCFF, local communities have more say in how their schools use the money. This means parents and teachers can have a more significant impact on deciding what the school needs most.
  • Property Taxes: The money that schools get from LCFF includes a base amount that comes partly from local property taxes. This means that the money collected from homeowners in the area helps to fund the local schools. Since each area might have different property tax income, this still ties school funding somewhat to a neighborhood's wealth, but LCFF helps balance it out with extra funds where they're needed most.

In simple terms, LCFF was created to ensure that money for schools is shared more fairly, focusing more on what students in each school actually need to succeed. This system, with its focus on fairness and equity, should reassure you that every child, regardless of their background, has an equal opportunity to succeed in their education.

Impact on Quality of Education

The quality of local schools often reflects the community's property tax base. Neighborhoods with higher property values generate more tax revenue, which can lead to better-funded schools and, typically, better educational outcomes. This disparity highlights the importance of understanding and participating in local tax discussions and assessments.


In California, the relationship between property values, local property taxes, and school quality is complex due to the state's unique tax laws, specifically the implications of Proposition 13. Passed in 1978, Proposition 13 caps the amount that property taxes can increase each year, regardless of increases in property values. This means that, unlike many other places, rising property values in California do not automatically lead to proportionally increased property tax revenues.

However, areas with higher property values still tend to have better-funded schools for a couple of reasons:

  • Higher Baseline Taxes: Even with Proposition 13, neighborhoods with higher property values start from a higher baseline tax amount, which provides more funding to local schools.
  • Local Funding Measures: Communities with higher property values often pass local parcel taxes or bond measures to fund schools, which go beyond the limitations set by Proposition 13. These measures are typically voted on in local elections and can significantly impact school budgets.

A prime example is Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. Despite Proposition 13's limitations, the city's schools benefit from a community with high property values and strong support for education, often reflected in local voting patterns favoring school funding measures. This results in Palo Alto schools having more resources and generally better performance compared to schools in less affluent areas.

Why Every Californian Should Care

Educational Equity

Understanding how property taxes impact local schools is key to addressing educational equity. Advocating for fair property assessments and equitable funding formulas can help ensure all children receive a quality education.

Home Values

Good schools increase property values. Homeowners should understand how supporting their local schools through property taxes can help their long-term value.

In many communities, a cycle begins with high property values, which lead to better-funded schools through higher property tax revenues and community support for school-related funding measures. As these schools improve — with better facilities, more resources, and qualified teachers — they enhance the educational outcomes and reputation of the district.

This reputation for excellent education increases the neighborhood's attractiveness to prospective homeowners, particularly those with children, looking for the best possible schooling options. This demand further drives up property values, enhancing the tax base and providing even more school funding.

Thus, a self-reinforcing cycle is established: higher property values finance better schools, which in turn boost property values even more. Homeowners benefit from this cycle, as the continuous improvement in school quality helps sustain and increase their property's value over time. This makes support for local schools through property taxes and other funding initiatives not just a matter of civic duty but a wise investment that promotes a cycle of mutual benefit between educational institutions and property owners.

Why Real Estate Agents Should Care

  1. Educating Clients: Real estate agents need to provide accurate and comprehensive information to their clients. Knowing the specifics of property taxes helps agents explain potential costs associated with owning a property. This is especially important for buyers moving from different states or regions where tax rates and structures might differ significantly.
  2. Assessing Property Value: Property taxes are often based on assessed property values. Agents who understand how these assessments are conducted can better evaluate and compare property values, which is essential for advising clients on buying and selling properties.
  3. Budget Planning: For many homeowners, property taxes represent a significant portion of their annual housing expenses. Agents must be able to help clients estimate these costs accurately so they can budget appropriately. This is particularly important in areas with high tax rates or where property values rapidly increase.
  4. Understanding Community Benefits: Property taxes typically fund critical local services and infrastructure, such as public schools, police and fire departments, and public parks. A real estate agent who can articulate what these taxes contribute can provide deeper insights into the quality of life in a particular community. This knowledge can be a deciding factor for buyers considering different neighborhoods.
  5. Negotiating Deals: Knowledge of how property taxes impact a real estate deal is vital. For instance, if an area is due for a tax reassessment or has pending tax legislation, this could affect the buyer's willingness to close a deal at a proposed price. An informed agent can negotiate better terms by anticipating changes in property taxes.
  6. Investment Insight: Investors often look to real estate agents for advice on properties that offer the best return on investment. Understanding property taxes helps agents recommend investments wisely, considering the long-term tax implications and the potential for property tax hikes.
  7. Market Trends: Changes in property tax policies can influence real estate market trends. Agents aware of these changes can better predict market movements and advise clients when to buy or sell to maximize their financial outcomes.

Overall, an in-depth understanding of property taxes enhances a real estate agent's professionalism and capability to provide strategic advice, thus fostering client trust and credibility.

Property taxes play a crucial role in funding local education in California. By understanding this role, Californians can make informed decisions that support their communities and foster educational environments where all students thrive.



Kartik Subramaniam

Founder, Adhi Schools

Kartik Subramaniam is the Founder and CEO of ADHI Real Estate Schools, a leader in real estate education throughout California. Holding a degree from Cal Poly University, Subramaniam brings a wealth of experience in real estate sales, property management, and investment transactions. He is the author of nine books on real estate and countless real estate articles. With a track record of successfully completing hundreds of real estate transactions, he has equipped countless professionals to thrive in the industry.

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