Education Dollars Not Finding the Classroom

For the three hundred and twenty-three thousandth time (or so), it’s not the total amount of education dollars provided — it’s how the dollars are spent.

The latest evidence comes from California. Yes, we can learn from the Golden State. Pepperdine University did the research on five-year spending at more than 950 public school districts. The key result:

Between 2003-2004 and 2008-2009, total school spending per capita (not including capital spending) increased by 24.9%. This, of course, was far greater than the growth in per capita personal income or inflation. Direct classroom expenditures, however, declined from 59% to 57.8%.

Statewide expenditures for teacher salaries and benefits (obviously by far the biggest part of the direct classroom mix) declined from 50% to 48%. The question is where did the more than 42% of dollars go that were spent outside the classroom?

The president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education noted, "It is intriguing to contemplate the lost opportunities this study brings to light. If California had the extra $1.7 billion that went outside the classroom, we might have been able to hire more than 21,000 teachers statewide."

Oh No! We’re Even With California

Getting more of the education dollars into the classroom has been a constant theme for Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. But in July, the State Budget Agency released a report that indicated Hoosier districts spent an average of 57.8% in the classroom in the 2008-2009 school year, a decrease from 60.6% the previous year.

These numbers always come with controversy. Districts themselves are much more generous with what qualifies as a classroom expenditure, so their numbers can often dramatically differ from what a government or independent review will find. The goal of 65% into the classroom is also not without dispute.

What makes this interesting at this time is that a Pepperdine University review of California education spending from 2003-2004 to 2008-2009 found that direct classroom expenditures statewide went from 59% to 57.8%. Yikes, we’re tied with California. When it comes to money and expenditures, that can’t be a good thing.

A couple of other nuggets from the Pepperdine report (where they evidently do have more than surfing as a major; really, it must be the college campus with the most scenic views):

  • School spending increased by 25.8% per capita during the five-year period. So much for all that talk about spending cuts
  • Teacher salaries and benefits accounted for 48% of spending, a lower number than I would have anticipated
  • The president of the California Foundation for Education and Commerce stated: "If California had the extra $1.8 billion that went to things other than teaching, we might have been able to hire more than 22,000 teachers statewide."