Breaking down Meg’s ed numbers

Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign never got back to me to explain the candidate’s continued assertion that 40 percent of education dollars are squandered on “administration and overhead.” But a K-12 expert at the Legislative Analyst’s office did pass along a url that’s the likely basis of the claim. Sure enough, it’s in the ed-data section of the Dept. of Education’s website.

So call it up, and let’s go over what it says. Go midway down to “General Fund Expenditures by Activity.” What Whitman is calling money in the classroom is the 50 percent – $26 billion – spent on Instruction (defined as including teacher salaries and benefits, aides and books) and 12 percent on Special Education ($6 billion).

That leaves 38 percent.

But a lot of the remainder supports what goes on in the classroom:

  • 8 percent for pupil services, including counselors and transportation;
  • 10 percent for buildings and maintenance – assuming Whitman doesn’t want students sitting under trees in the rain; and
  • 12 percent for “instruction-related services, which includes teacher coaches and supervisors, the principal and office staff , money for teacher training, and librarians – or what’s left of them. These statistics are from 2008-09. After the latest round of budget cuts, classroom teachers will be lucky to have chalk.

General administration expenditures – the so-called central office bureaucrats –  amounted to only 5% of total spending and includes district-wide activities like payroll, legal services, audit costs, and community relations.

Forty percent for “overhead and administration” sounds huge, until one actually breaks the down the figures, looking for waste that’s more illusive than real.

This entry was posted in 2010 elections on by .

About John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

12 thoughts on “Breaking down Meg’s ed numbers

  1. CarolineSF

    Great post — thank you!

    I heard a Whitman commercial (I’m sure most people have heard it many time) blasting the high number of California state employees, whom she of course implies deserve contempt as pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Of course in the reality-based world, that high number includes all public school teachers (and all the other public school staff — principals, caf workers, custodians, secretaries, the remaining librarians, counselors and nurses, etc.).

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

  2. tonytheTiger

    I don’t think teachers aren’t state employees, Caroline, and the Whitman numbers I have heard don’t include them. Whitman has used a number of around 350,000 for state workers, and I have heard her talk about moving that overall state workforce down to 2004-5 levels, which sounds good to me.

    I think that teachers and the rest you refer to are school district employees, and there are about 600,000 of them total. Only about 300,000 are teachers, so that means we have about one non-teacher for every teacher. So when Whitman talks about getting more money into the classroom I am all for it. it doesn’t seem like there should be one non-teacher for every teacher. What’s up with that ratio?

    Anyhow, I also personally want a Governor who is going to examine our government to see where we can save money or where we can redirect our money to better uses. Maybe some state employees are pencil-pushing bureaucrats, and maybe there are positions that could disappear. What is the harm in trying to make our government efficient?

    I don’t know if it was on this blog or somewhere else but i recently read about 150 people at the state dept of education who are still on the payroll even though the programs they oversee have been cancelled. Should they just stay on the payroll forever? i don’t want that.

    Double check me on whether teachers are state employees but i don’t think they are, and i hope you would want a governor who is careful with your tax dollars.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

  3. CarolineSF

    School districts are state agencies. I wouldn’t trust any purported facts and figures that came from Whitman’s campaign ads in any case, and neither should anybody with a lick of sense. So it’s pointless to find out whether her supposed figures include public-school teachers ore not. But technically, public school teachers are state employees. My husband is a substitute teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District, and of course his paychecks come from SFUSD, but again, SFUSD is a state agency. … That said, I am very willing to open a discussion of getting rid of the state Board of Ed and re-examine some of the functions of their department, such as handing out $450K startup costs to any warm body who comes along wanting to start a charter school.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

  4. Reader

    If we want to get started on state workers — California is running a pretty tight ship. As Mark Paul, of the nonpartisan New America Foundation wrote in a piece for Calbuzz, “If state government employment were increasing faster than state population, you’d be worried. In this chart, you can see the opposite is true. The number of state employees per 1,000 Californians has declined since the mid-1970s.” An even more astounding fact is this one: “According to the latest budget estimates, the state will spend less this year than it did in 2005, when there were two million fewer people in California.” And this gem: “Over that past decade, California has ranked between 46th and 50th among the states in the annual federal listing comparing state workforces to population; its state workforce is about 25 percent smaller than the national average.” I would encourage Tony to take a look at his article.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

  5. edfundwonk

    Teachers most emphatically are NOT state employees. The only exception is the teachers at the state special schools for the deaf and blind. The state provides funding for LOCAL education agencies (LEAs) — school districts and county offices of education — but teachers (and other staff)are employed by the LEAs, which are responsible for all decisions regarding hiring, firing, tenure, and promotion.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

  6. Pingback: Comparing Brown’s, Whitman’s ed platforms | Thoughts on Public Education

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>