There was a time when California schools were among the very best on the planet. Things have changed, a lot.

A report issued late last year revealed California to be the least-educated state in America. Are you surprised? The more salient questions is, how did California public education go from first to worst.

That was the title of a documentary produced a decade and a half ago, and we are sad to report that things haven’t improved much, if at all since 2004.

There is much debate about the excellence, or lack of same by experts. For example, the personal finance website WalletHub ranks California 38th overall on its best-and-worst schools list. A report generated from Census Bureau data suggests California is the least-educated state in America.

There is conflicting, apparently contradictory data: California spends $11,500 a year per K-12 student, while the national average is $11,800. At the same time, California teachers earn an average of $49,000 a year, about $10,000 higher than the national average. Is there a correlation?

The WalletHub data is based on a full menu of metrics that show California public schools rank 50th, dead last, in student/teacher ratio, 44th in math test scores, 38th in reading tests, 34th in dropout rate and 32nd in median SAT scores.

Not very good numbers, and downright awful in important categories. The question is, who is the blame? There are too many factors to make a reasonable determination.

From its beginning in 1849, the state government’s goal was to provide a good public education to all willing to take advantage of such an offer, and it would be free.

“Free” is a relative term. Someone has to pay the costs of education, and for the most part that responsibility has fallen on California’s taxpayers. We paid, and the system flourished and grew, exponentially, along with the state’s population.

California now is the nation’s most populous state, and it has the most public education students, more students in school than 36 of the states have in total population. The bigger-is-better concept works in some situations, but not in public education, which is now an unwieldy behemoth gobbling funds and leaving too many kids without a basic, functional education.

It all seemed to work better when individual communities paid for and made policy for their schools. But in the early 1900s the die was cast for a state-funded education system, and that’s where we are today.

California’s slippage is not the fault of teachers or school district administrators, who in most cases are running as fast as they can to deliver a quality education to every youngster who walks through the door. It’s just grown too big to handle properly.

Some believed charter schools would be the answer, but too many of those simply take the money and run, as is the case with many for-profit higher-education colleges/businesses.

There are solutions, ways to lift California schools back to prominence, but as you might imagine, a lot of money would be needed — and a lot of money has been thrown at education in recent years, with mostly negative results.

A real solution needs to be found. As a society we cannot allow our young people to grow into adulthood without the basic tools and skills a solid education can and should provide.

When you think about this problem, the solution is as simple as ABC, but also as complicated. Most readers had a solid education, and we’d like to hear, and share your thoughts.

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