"AZ spends less in classrooms" awarded prize for best misleading headline

Cross-posted from SkyIslandScriber.com

The prize was awarded this morning by your Scriber. The headline was on the lead front page article in the paper version of the Daily Star. The on-line version had a similar title: Arizona spending in classrooms declines year over year. Both come from the report by Howard Fischer in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required): K–12 classroom spending reaches all-time low. All those headlines are correct. And all are misleading.

The short of it is that schools have two pots of money. One pot goes to cover costs of classroom instruction. The other pot goes to cover fixed costs of running a school: bus maintenance, physical facility upkeep, social workers, counselors, and, yes, administrators responsible for keeping all that from coming apart. If you cut the school’s budget, or let it functionally be cut by not keeping up with inflation, then the fixed costs consume a larger part of the budget and the classroom costs take a hit.

To be fair, Fischer explained this and more in his report. For example, he cites data showing that AZ schools are not particularly inefficient when compared to national averages. But that is not the take-away message from the headlines.

My beef is with the folks who write the headlines that are only partly correct. The voucher vultures are bound to swoop down to pick at the carcass of public schools while screeching about supposed inefficiencies and citing the misleading headlines.