School Dollars “Reaching the Classroom:” What Are the Facts?

Claims about California school spending are grabbing headlines again. However, some are making misleading assertions. Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s repeated claim that 40 percent of California school spending “goes to bureaucracy and overhead,” for example, does not square with the facts. While it is unclear what figures Ms. Whitman is using, a common measure for defining K-12 spending reflects schools’ day-to-day operational expenses. According to the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, 1 percent of the dollars California spends on the day-to-day operations of its schools goes toward general administration, which is less than half of what the rest of the United States spends. Contrary to Ms. Whitman’s claim that only 60 percent of California’s education spending “reaches the classroom,” California spends two-thirds (66.7 percent) of its dollars on classroom instruction and 28.5 percent on “student services,” which includes home-to-school transportation, keeping classrooms clean and safe, and school principals’ and vice principals’ salaries. While some may argue that principals’ salaries are part of “bureaucracy and overhead,” research documents the fact that school leadership is important to student achievement. Debates about budget priorities are fair game, but they should be rooted in the facts, not myths.

— Jonathan Kaplan

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