Obscuring the Picture With Wiggle Words

Kansas has enacted a requirement that 65 percent of school spending be spent on classroom instruction. The idea has been discussed in many states, and enacted in a few. George F. Will comments that federal data compilers are obscuring the debate by changing the definitions that might be applied to such laws:

In July the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Education Department, undermined this national effort. A report on expenditures for public elementary and secondary education for the 2003-04 school year contained this finding: “The percentage of current expenditures spent on instruction and instruction-related activities was 66.1 percent in 2003-04 for the nation as a whole” (emphasis added). Seasoned students of government verbiage noted the suspiciously vague phrase “instruction-related activities.”


Now that Americans’ concern is shifting from how much money is spent on education to how much education the money is buying, government has blurred the measurement in a way that says 66.1 percent of education dollars already reach the classroom. If the “instruction-related” criterion is not added, the percentage of dollars devoted to instruction has declined for five consecutive years, to 61.3.

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