Kansas Chamber of Commerce president Mike O’Neal drew cheers from a Republican audience Friday when he said public schools don’t get enough money to the classroom, but the numbers he cited were inaccurate, according to Education Department spending reports.
O’Neal, a former Kansas House speaker, told a meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club that schools are top-heavy with administration and shortchange classroom spending.
“We have a goal in the (state) statute of 65 percent of the funds being used for instruction,” O’Neal said. “There’s a huge debate over what instruction includes.
“But without regard to definitions, that goal has never been met. It’s always been around 55 percent, using the Department of Education’s own numbers.”
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O’Neal said the difference between 55 percent and 65 percent is about $500 million.
“So that’s money that is being spent on education that has not been directed in the way the Legislature intended and that is toward instruction,” O’Neal said.
However, the actual gap between the 65 percent goal and actual classroom spending is less than half what O’Neal said it is, according the 2013-2014 Current Spending Report by the Education Department, the most recent data available.
The report says 61.4 percent of school spending goes directly to classroom instruction. An additional 5 percent goes to student support, including guidance counseling, school nurses, social workers, psychologists and speech pathology.
The second-largest slice of school spending, 9.8 percent, goes to operation and maintenance. About 5.8 percent goes to school site administration and 2.6 percent to general district administration.
The Current Spending Report uses national definitions for what counts as instructional spending and is reported to the Census Bureau by every school district in the country.
O’Neal’s speech drew two standing ovations for the former House Speaker, who also endorsed expansion of public funding for private-school education choice during his remarks.
Although he no longer holds public office, O’Neal remains a force in state government because of the campaign spending and Capitol lobbying influence the Chamber wields.
Kansas’ goal of spending 65 percent on instruction originated with the “65 Percent Solution,” an education movement championed by a group called First Class Education. The group was started by Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne and promoted by conservative columnist George Will.
The Kansas Legislature passed the 65 percent goal in 2005, despite a Standard and Poor’s analysis that found no correlation between percentage of classroom spending and student achievement.
Only a handful of states adopted the 65 Percent Solution, and First Class Education has since disappeared from the American educational-political landscape. Its onetime website has been inactive since 2009.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.