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2010 August 9 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Study -- Classroom Spending Dips as Ed Funding Rises

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Spending in California classrooms declined as a percentage of total education spending over a recent five-year period, even as total school funding increased, according to a Pepperdine University study.

More of the funding increase went to administrators, clerks and technical staff and less to teachers, textbooks, materials and teacher aides, the study found. It was partially funded by a California Chamber of Commerce foundation.

Total K-12 spending increased by $10 billion over the five-year period ending June 30, 2009, from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion statewide. It rose at a rate greater than the increase in inflation or personal income, according to the study. Yet researchers found that classroom spending dipped from 59 percent of education funding to 57.8 percent over the five years.

Spending on teacher salaries and benefits dropped from 50 percent of statewide spending to 48 percent over the same period. Spending on administrators and supervisors, staff travel and conferences all increased faster than teachers’ pay.

“It’s not teachers’ salaries and benefits that are causing the financial problems in the education system,” said the study’s author, public policy professor Steven Frates. He is director of research for the Davenport Institute on the Malibu campus.

The study covered a period before budget cuts led to nearly 16,000 teachers losing their jobs for the 2009-10 school year. Another 22,000 have received pink slips for the coming school year.

California Department of Education spokeswoman Maria Lopez said school spending increased during the period covered in the Pepperdine study but has declined steadily since the 2007-08 fiscal year. It would decrease again if state lawmakers approve the budget Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed in May.

She said national rankings consistently show California near the bottom in the amount it spends per student.

In addition to analyzing statewide figures, the university researchers compared spending in 52 school districts chosen from the more than 1,000 districts statewide. Those sampled ranged from Los Angeles Unified and urban districts near San Francisco and San Diego to rural districts in the Central Valley and along the Northern California coast.

The researchers found a wide variation in the percentage of education funding that trickled down to the classroom. Some districts with the least amount of overall funding devoted the greatest percentage to direct classroom spending.

Chamber President Allan Zaremberg said the findings show that school districts need to follow the example of businesses and become more efficient. That would free up more money to hire teachers, he said.

“We’ve seen the slow migration of funds from the classroom to elsewhere in the education bureaucracy,” said Loren Kaye, president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, which helped fund the study.

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