Tuesday, August 10, 2010

instructional costs?

Yesterday I was flipping through a local magazine when I noticed an article about education spending in the greater DC area. It included graphs of almost all the local school districts and how they divided their spending. The larger districts sited the category of "instruction" as where they put all their money, while the smaller school districts gave more descriptive titles to their categories- salaries, benefits, materials/supplies, transportation, school food, etc. The big districts didn't include those detailed headings, so they had fewer, more general categories.

It looks great to be able to say that well over 75% of your money goes toward instruction, but what does that really mean? What gets to be included in 'instruction' cost? Teacher salaries and benefits, I assume. Materials, school supplies? Where does school food come in? Does teacher professional development include instruction since it will benefit the children in the long-run? What about building costs, lighting/heating/electricity? School support staff like our clinic aid? Does school security get included in instruction? School-sponsored sports teams? What about the people writing curriculum in the central office- do they get to be included in the instructional umbrella because they are writing the instruction?

Although I find the smaller school districts' graphs more informative, at first glance their graphs just look messy and give the reader the sense those districts don't know how to manage money. In a side-by-side comparison to the larger districts it almost looks as though those smaller districts just aren't bothering with instruction at all. (Which of course, isn't true). Do they just need a better PR person to tell them what to lump together into the "instructional" category?

Until seeing the graphs I'd never questioned when I hear school districts boast about how almost all of their funding goes into instruction. Politicians run on platforms that include the importance putting more money into instruction. It always sounds great- yes, more money for the kids! I've never thought anything of it. Now I'm curious.

I'm sure there is an answer out there, and perhaps it is already common knowledge and I just haven't been paying attention. If you know the answer, please let me know- what gets to count as "instructional spending"?

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