Moeller, Peterson disagree on education stat — who's right?

In a recent candidate forum hosted by, Republican legislative candidate Debbie Peterson said the state spends 40 percent of its education budget on administration costs.

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who is running for re-election against a different Republican, Carolyn Crain, balked at the statistic used by Peterson.

“That’s not true Debbie,” he said. “I mean, come on, really?”

The forum’s moderator, conservative radio talk show host Victoria Taft, said the statistic seemed “entirely possible” and she also asked Moeller to discuss how he knows it’s false.

Moeller said 40 percent seemed too high to him. If the state was spending that much on education administration, he would know about it, and he even agreed to reappear on a future webcast to admit his error if it turned out he was wrong.

Peterson, who is running in the 49th Legislative District against incumbent state Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, defended her statistic during the forum by saying she read it in a recent performance audit.

It appears Moeller will not have to make a repeat appearance on, a website owned by Republican Clark County Commissioner candidate David Madore. According to a performance audit released in June by the State Auditor’s Office, public schools in the state spend 5.8 percent of the education budget on school administration and 1.9 percent on general administration.

That 5.8 percent represents “$681.7 million in staff and operating costs associated with the School Board, Superintendent and School Principals,” according to the audit. You can read the entire audit by clicking this link.

According to 2009 figures (the most recent available), Washington K-12 public schools spent 60.2 percent on classroom instruction, 6.6 percent on student support, 8.9 percent on operations, 3.9 percent on transportation, 3.3 percent on food services, 1.2 percent on enterprise operations and 3.7 percent on other services. The national average for spending on classroom instruction is 61 percent.

Although the audit does not say that 40 percent is spent on administration, it does recommend that education officials look for ways to reduce administration spending by combining some administration jobs together. Peterson would have been correct had she said Washington schools spend about 40 percent on non-instructional costs. But to say 40 percent was spent purely on administration is false.

You can watch the entire forum here. The candidates also discuss the candy tax that voters rejected in a past election, and the Columbia River Crossing project. Fun fact: Peterson tells Moeller she eats a Snickers candy bar almost every day for lunch.

Are there any other parts of the forum you’d like me to fact check? I focused on this statistic in particular because there was an obvious disagreement about it during the forum.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or

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