Following Stossel's lead, Caldara distorted school funding figures to promote "school choice"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

On The Mike Rosen Show, guest host and Independence Institute president Jon Caldara misleadingly claimed that the "majority of money" used to fund public schools goes "into administration." In fact, government statistics show that most funding goes toward instruction and instruction-related expenses.

On the September 1 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Mike Rosen Show, guest host and Independence Institute president Jon Caldara misleadingly claimed that the "majority of money" used to fund public schools goes "into administration." In fact, according to a July 2006 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), most funding for public schools both nationwide and in Colorado goes toward instruction and instruction-related expenses.

Following an interview with ABC's John Stossel to promote the September 1 rebroadcast of Stossel's dubious 20/20 report "Stupid in America," Caldara criticized public education by saying, "No, I'm not bashing teachers, I'm bashing a system that protects one group and hurts children. Give us choice." Then, responding to a caller's question about school funding and if it were true that "85 percent or something like that goes for teacher salary," Caldara stated, "The majority of money [for public schools] is being brought up into administration." Quoting a figure from Stossel, Caldara continued, "I mean, dude, do the numbers yourself. If it's $10,000 a kid nationwide and you have 25 kids in a classroom, you are talking about a quarter of a million dollars per classroom. Now if the teacher is costing you $50,000, where the hell does the other $200,000 go? It gets gobbled up in administration, bureaucrats, social workers, it continues. That's why private schools, Catholic schools can do it for a couple grand a year."

However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 66.1 percent of expenditures nationwide for public elementary and secondary education were for what NCES defines as "instruction and instruction-related expenditures" during the 2003-2004 school year. The report also found that, nationwide, 17.8 percent of expenditures were for "operations;" 11 percent went to "administration;" and 5.2 percent were for "student support services."

The 2006 NCES report Current Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2003-04 "presents current expenditures for public elementary and secondary education for school year 2003-04" and measures "the amounts expended for the day-to-day operation of schools and school districts." NCES breaks its out into four categories:

The category of instruction and instruction-related expenditures brings together expenditures for staff and services that work directly with students, such as teachers, teaching assistants, and librarians. Student support services include guidance counselors, school nurses, social workers, and attendance staff. Administration includes administrators and administrative staff of schools and school districts. Operations include the operating expenditures for keeping schools and other school district facilities operating, as well as student transportation and food services.

In Colorado, according to the NCES report, 62.3 percent of expenditures for public elementary and secondary education were for instruction and instruction-related expenditures, while 16.1 percent were for operations; 17.1 percent for administration; and 4.5 percent for student support services.

The "$10,000 a kid" figure to which Stossel and Caldara referred is misleading. According to the NCES report, "Total current expenditures per student in membership [for public elementary and secondary school districts] were $8,310 in 2003-04." The same report also stated, "The median current expenditure per student in membership at the school district level was $7,860. This indicates that half of the school districts spent more than $7,860 per student, and half of the school districts spent less than $7,860 per student. Ninety percent of school districts spent between $5,855 per student and $14,067 per student."

In Colorado, the median expenditure per student is $7,768, according to NCES.

As Media Matters for America previously noted, Stossel's "Stupid in America" report -- originally aired January 13 -- skewed heavily in favor of "school choice" and school vouchers, both in the number of people interviewed and of time devoted to allowing them to make their argument. During the report, Stossel also repeatedly presented out-of-context material in making derogatory statements about the state of public schools, teaching methods they employed, and students' general knowledge.

From the September 1 broadcast of Newsradio 850 KOA's The Mike Rosen Show with guest host Jon Caldara:

CALDARA: All I hear in Colorado, constantly hear in Colorado, is we need more money for education. There is a constant drumbeat. They never say exactly how much they need for education, the answer always is we just need more. How much money are we spending on education nationwide?

STOSSEL: $10,000 on average, per student. Which, if you do the math, is, in a classroom, more than $200,000. Think what you could do with that money. You could hire three great teachers. They're squandering money because it's a government monopoly.

CALDARA: The last couple of callers really helped us see the, three of the points that the monopolists love to put out. Real fast order: When you bring up choice in education like you have choice in everything else in your life, they do a couple things. Sheila called in and she said, "Well, I've been listening to you bash teachers." No, no, no, no, no, no, no. You see the emotional misdirection there. I was never bashing teachers. Teachers are great -- some teachers are lousy, some teachers are incredible. I'm bashing a system that does not have true choice. So you know how the left likes to personalize and emotionalize -- "You're bashing teachers!" No, I'm not bashing teachers, I'm bashing a system that protects one group and hurts children. Give us choice.

[...]

CALLER: Hi Jon. Listen, I'm calling in regards to the woman who had the complaints about special-ed kids sucking up all the money. I live in Jefferson County, and at the school that my son goes to -- who is special needs -- the staff and the equipment for special ed is so under-funded. She said like 20 percent of the money at schools goes into special ed -- that's gotta be bull, because 85 percent or something like that goes for teacher salary, right?

CALDARA: Oh no, no. The majority of money now is being brought up into administration. I mean, dude, do the numbers yourself. If it's $10,000 a kid nationwide and you have 25 kids in a classroom, you are talking about a quarter of a million dollars per classroom. Now, if the teacher is costing you $50,000, where the hell does the other $200,000 go? It gets gobbled up in administration, bureaucrats, social workers, it continues. That's why private schools, Catholic schools can do it for a couple grand a year.

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