I saw this article mentioned earlier this week, but didn’t put two and two together initially (ha! math joke!). The title is “Classsroom spending dips as ed funding rises.” That title sounds serious. California is spending more on education overall, but less on the classroom!? Well…no. We’re spending more and spending a lower percentage on the classroom. Spending went from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion from 2004-2009 and at the same time, the percentage spent on the classroom went down from 59% to 57.8%. I’ll do a little multiplication for you to save you the trouble. That means classroom spending went from $26.90 billion to $32.14 billion. So while the increase in overall education spending grew by $10 billion, classroom spending grew by $5.24 billion. Let me put it in comparative terms. Classroom spending increased by 19.5% while other spending (administrative costs, property costs, buses, all of those things) increased by 25.5%. Thus, because other costs increased by more, the overall percentage of spending in the classroom decreased.
Does this mean we’re neglecting the classroom? Maybe or maybe not. What kinds of spending does a classroom have? Teacher salaries and supplies for the most part. Teacher salaries are usually stable for periods of time this short, since there are union contracts that often don’t change much. As for supplies, the biggest expenses there are on technology. There have been lots of complaints about purchasing of unnecessary technology, so is it a problem that we’re both spending more on technology and less of a percentage on it? In addition, technology prices are decreasing rapidly. In 2005, $1000 would’ve been a reasonable price for a computer. Now, computers are half the cost. We’ve also focused a lot more in the last few years on things like accountability and support. Increasing assessments is costly. Professional development has also become a major focus in the last few years. I’m guessing that’s not counted as a “classroom cost,” but don’t you think it’s worthwhile? The article quotes the study’s author, public policy professor and director of research for the Davenport Institute, Steven Frates as saying, “It’s not teachers’ salaries and benefits that are causing the financial problems in the education system.”
He’s right; it’s budget cuts. School districts are being asked to spend less while at the same time their costs are going up. A report earlier this year pointed out that California spent less than average in 2007-2008 than other states, despite having higher costs of living. It’s not like education is the only area in which the California government is having budget issues. It’s widely known that the state is hemorrhaging everywhere. The article also brings up the fact that the CDE, according to spokeswoman Maria Lopez, has actually spent less money since 2007-2008, because of those very budget issues. Perhaps a bigger focus on classroom spending is necessary, but I’m not going to make judgments unless I see ideas of alternatives that are effective. How do we know administrative costs don’t drive learning as much as classroom costs? We don’t and misleading math isn’t going to solve any problems.