A favorite cliche politicians like to throw around to demonstrate their supposed commitment to education is a promise to "keep money in the classroom." How can you be against that? Waving the banner of "in the classroom," cynical politicians get a free pass to attack any education spending that doesn’t meet their arbitrary standard.
But like most platitudes from politicians, this simplistic statement obscures the complications of operating schools in the real world.
Who are these greedy people plotting to steal money from children? It must be administrators who want to spend money fixing roofs and installing energy-efficient HVAC systems. But roofs that don’t leak and well-functioning heating and cooling systems prevent indoor air quality problems in the classroom that can not only harm student achievement, but also expose students to illness and disease.
Maybe it’s the maintenance personnel who are taking the money that would otherwise stay in the classroom. But without regular, effective cleaning and upkeep, school facilities will become unsanitary, unhealthful and potentially dangerous for students in the classroom.
Bus drivers and the rest of those running school transportation departments also are culpable in the scheme to drain resources from the classroom. But without the big yellow vehicles lumbering through neighborhoods and down two-lane highways, millions of children each day would be stranded on the side of the road instead of in the classroom.
Don’t nurses, counselors, principals or superintendents make contributions that improve learning conditions for students in the classroom even though they might be down the hall or across town?
Years of writing about school facilities for American School & University have convinced me that no one has been able to draw a clear line that separates classroom spending from other, presumably less worthy expenditures. There’s too much clamoring for more spending in the classroom without a specific plan for what will be done with the money and how schools and universities will carry out the vital "non-classroom" services that are targeted for cuts.
So when people attach a sweeping label that implies some categories of spending are inherently wasteful, my conclusion is that they are looking to score political points rather than improve education.
Agron is editor-in-chief of AS&U.