Earth to Brown: Ed Spending Is Up

Steven Greenhut: Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan spares education because of the supposedly severe cuts that the state’s public education system has endured in recent years, but this is utter nonsense. A new study released today at a Sacramento press conference by the Pepperdine University Davenport Institute makes it clear that the education budget has been going up for many years. There have been no budget cuts. And the study suggests that most — but not all — school districts often misspend their dollars, as administrative salaries and benefits soar while classroom-related budgets decline. It’s a matter of skewed priorities.

“[O]ver the last several years, the expression ‘budget cuts’ has been heard often regarding K-12 public school district expenditures in California,” according to the report, co-sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce. “In reality, total expenditures (excluding Capital Expenditures) have increased every year from FY 2003-04 through FY 2007-08, before leveling off in FY 2008-09. (If Capital expenditures are included, Total Expenditures have increased every Fiscal Year).

Expenditures have gone up, not down. And this has taken place even though the number of students has fallen. Actually, the amount of money spent on teacher salaries and benefits has decreased slightly, but the amount on administrators and bureaucracy has gone up. Direct in-classroom expenditures have dropped. Steven Frates, who directed the study, argued that the state can save much money by reallocating the way the public education system spends its money. Huge savings could be realized simply by freezing the pay and benefits for administrators.

Yet I expect Brown to trot out his tired canard about education cuts. Remember, decline in the proposed amount of growth is not a cut. But this governor, despite some admirable budget-cutting proposals, has yet to grasp the degree to which the state could save money by getting control of the way it currently administers tax dollars. But that would be tough, because it would mean delving deeply into budgets, challenging the status quo and taking on the public sector unions and government administrators.

It’s far easier to call for massive cuts or large tax hikes.

JAN. 31, 2011

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