Leaving no stone unturned in its effort to find money to improve schools, Arkansas asked districts to report how much they spent on athletics this past school year.
But the results of that first-ever effort, released in a report last month, were not as helpful as some had hoped.
Rep. Betty Pickett, a Democrat, sponsored the legislation, signed into law last year, that requires school districts to report annual spending on athletic activities.
“Arkansas just went through a court-ordered mandate to provide adequacy in our schools, and we are looking at new sources of funding,” Ms. Pickett said in an interview. “My bill was to determine exactly how much money was being spent on athletics.”
But the report, released Jan. 29 by the state education department, said that of the $2.7 billion spent from state and local funds during 2004, only $61 million—a little over 2 percent—went for sports.
Ms. Pickett attributed the low percentage to the fact that districts did not report expenses indirectly involved in athletic activities, such as the money paid for utilities and for facilities maintenance.
“At this particular point, the report is incomplete,” she said, adding she would next sit down with the education department to address reporting inconsistencies.
The lawmaker added that her original bill had sought a per-student cap on athletic spending, a provision that she could seek in the future.
Sports advocates said that the spending cap was not the mandate of the state supreme court order and warned against cutting money for athletics.
Lance Taylor, the deputy director of the Arkansas Activities Association, welcomed the figures in the education department report, but said it is unfair to require schools to report exactly how much they spend on athletics because the same facilities can be used for a variety of activities throughout the day. “It would be hard to say how much is spent on athletics, because they comprise just a small percentage of the activities,” Mr. Taylor said.
He added that the report refuted concerns that some school districts were spending nearly half their money on athletics, and he stressed the importance of not cutting funding for sports. “Children involved in extracurricular activities are less likely to drop out,” Mr. Taylor said.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week