Monday, December 21, 2015

Percentage of Funds to the Classroom - the Rest of the Story

It has been quite a while since I pontificated in this space, but perhaps that is a good thing! However, as the Kansas Legislature returns in less than a month, we are already hearing the "Let's get more money to the classroom" mantra circulate among our elected officials, and in an effort to better inform our Newton electorate, I thought a bit of additional information might be helpful.

We often hear those in leadership toss about the "65% rule" in terms of the percentage of dollars that should flow into classrooms. While this is a somewhat random target that was set in place by an Arizona political consultant in the early part of this century, the percentage seems to have "stuck" and has been picked up by a number of state legislatures across the country. The 65% target was also locked in to following a set of very narrowly defined budgeting categories, only considering "instructional expenses" as those directly related to the classroom, i.e. teacher and classroom aide salaries, classroom supplies, and equipment. This target remains, at best, a policy goal - with no salient educational research to back up its merits.

What is regularly trotted out by those who are critical of public education is that we as an institution continually miss that target, and thus must be wasting funds on bloated overhead and unnecessary expenditures. I would argue with those critics vociferously, as I believe there are a few more things that just might ought to be considered necessary for kids to succeed in school. Here are a few additional items that are NOT included in the aforementioned definition of "instruction" - but are certainly necessary to make school happen for kids:
  • Student Support: Nurses, counselors, social workers, school psychologists, speech language pathologists, etc.
  • Instructional Support: Media specialists, curriculum specialists, reading specialists, professional development activities to improve teaching methods
  • Building Administration: Principals, assistant principals, secretaries, supplies and materials to support the operation of the school
  • Operations/Maintenance: Custodial and maintenance staff salaries, cleaning supplies, utility costs, repair and maintenance of buildings
  • Transportation: Bus driver/aide salaries, maintaining bus fleet, transporting students
  • Food Service: Salaries of food service staff and food/supply costs for feeding students twice daily
Not included above are central administration, capital improvements, or debt service costs, but I could easily make the case that those things also contribute to kids and classrooms. However, for the sake of argument, let's limit it to the list above. Doesn't it make sense to consider things like media specialists, principals, custodians, getting kids to school, and taking care of their nutritional needs as a part of the educational process? As contributing to instruction and student learning? 

I would argue a definitive "YES!" Included in my post below is a simple (sort of!) breakout of the expenditure by budget function in our district last year. If you consider not only the narrowly defined "instruction" category but also those many contributing factors discussed above, over 89% of the USD 373 budget supports students: EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

We administrative folk try to explain these facts to our elected every chance we get, but perhaps this simple blog might also help our employees and community have a better idea of how dollars are spent in USD 373. 

If you want more information or would like to kick this around, give me a call or shoot me an email. I am always happy to visit!

© 2015 Russell K. Miller, EdD


  1. Looks reasonable to me. I would invest in a company with that breakdown.

  2. Outstanding Dr. Miller! Public school advocates need to go on the offensive when lies and distortions take over public discussion.

  3. Outstanding Dr. Miller! Public school advocates need to go on the offensive when lies and distortions take over public discussion.