Setting the Record Straight on School Employees and Spending

Setting the Record Straight on School Employees and Spending

I’ve been asked to comment on an ad that Americans for Prosperity has been running in recent months touching on several topics: the total amount of spending per pupil in Kansas (over $12,000 for the past five years), the share of that money going to teacher salaries, and claims over the past decade, for every two teachers, five “non-teaching” positions have been added.

A similar issue was raised by a state representative at the joint meeting between the State Board of Education and members of the House and Senate Education Committees, who said he was aware of a small district in Kansas had more “administrators” than “teachers.”  These comments reflect a theme that too little funding gets to “the classroom” to help students and teacher, and implies that schools are drowning in unnecessary bureaucracy.  What is the truth about these claims?

Instruction/Teachers vs. Administration/Bureaucrats

Let’s start with some definitions.  Discussions about “dollars in the classroom” usually rely on a federal reporting definition used by all districts and states for “instruction.”  This includes salaries and benefits for teachers and (importantly) teacher aides and paraprofessionals.  According to Kansas State Department of Education data, there were nearly 35,000 licensed teachers employed in Kansas districts last year, along with over 10,000 non-licensed aides and paraprofessionals. These individuals made up 65 percent  of the 68,568 total employees in Kansas school districts.  (Note: these are “full-time equivalent” or FTE positions.  Therefore, an employee who works only half a day would be counted as 0.5.  According to U.S. Census Bureau, the “head count” of school district employees is over 80,000.)

I suspect when people hear that “only” 65 percent of school employees are teachers or “instructional,” the implication is the other 35 percent really do not contribute to student learning.  In other words, if a school district employee isn’t a teacher, he or she must be an administrator or (even worse), a “bureaucrat.”  So what are these “non-teachers” doing?

The federal definitions include eight other major “functions” of education that support both students and teachers and provide for the management and operation of schools.  These include:

  • Student support – counselors, health services, psychologists, speech pathologists, social workers and school resource officers.
  • Instructional support – library and media center specialists and aides, technology support and curriculum support.
  • General Administration – superintendents and their central office staff.
  • School Administration – school building principals and their office staff.
  • Other Support Services – business managers, office staff.
  • Operations and Maintenance – utilities, insurance, custodial, security.
  • Transportation – bus drivers, vehicles and maintenance, fuel.
  • Food Service – cooks, food and food preparation.

Instructional employees have been increasing; administrators decreasing.

KASB has been compiling data from the State Department of Education from over a decade.  Between 2002 and 2013, total school districts employees increased by nearly 3,400.  Actual teacher positions increased by 1,315, or 40% of the total, which seems to be what the AFP ad is referencing.  However, other instructional positions (classroom aides, special education paraprofessionals, Parents as Teachers staff) increased by 2,679 – which means the total increase in instructional “in the classroom” staff was GREATER than the total increase in district employees.

As the chart below shows, instruction (direct contact with students), student support (services to address student guidance, mental and physical health and social needs) and instructional support (direct support of classroom teachers) are the only areas of school district operations to increase staff over the past decade.  District and school level administration, operations and support staff, food service and all other areas have been reduced, and transportation staff has remained about the same.

The next chart, which shows the percentage of spending on each function, looks very similar.  This data includes not only salaries but all other expenditures, such as supplies, utilities, fuel, food, etc.  It does NOT include the costs of long-term equipment, building construction, repair and remodeling, and payments on bonds for new construction.

Both charts make clear that looking “only” at instructional or “in the classroom” expenditures ignores significant aspects of school operations.  Sixty-one percent of current operating expenditures goes to direct instruction.  Nearly 10% goes to direct services to students, families and teachers.  About 4% pays for transporting students to and from “the classroom” or activities.  Five percent is spent on school meals.  About 10% is spent to heat, cool, clean, insure, secure and maintain classrooms and other school facilities. Finally about 10% is spent on “administration” at all levels – which includes everything from overseeing the district to evaluating and directing staff to managing student discipline and engagement with parents and the community.

Is using about 10% of your employees to manage, supervise or “administer” the other 90 percent unreasonable?  According to the 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States, 11% of the national civilian workforce is employed in “Management, business, and financial operations” jobs, which means Kansas school districts basically reflect the national economy.

Frankly, if any of these “non-instructional” functions were significantly reduced, it would either mean fewer services for students or more duties and less support for teachers.

Kansas school employee distribution and spending decisions are serving students well.

The AFP ad claims Kansas students are being short-changed by school spending decisions.  Let’s look at the data.  The federal government, which uses a slightly different way of calculating spending on instruction and current spending, reported that Kansas dedicated about 62% of current spending to instruction in 2011 – ranking 12th in the nation in the percent of current spending used for instruction – so Kansas actually ranked quite high in “dollars to the classroom.”

By most national measures of state performance (test scores, graduation rates, college preparation and completion), Kansas also ranked among or near the top ten states.  However, our current spending per pupil ranked 27th in the nation and instructional spending per pupil ranked 26th, so Kansas is clearly achieving very high results compared to its level of spending.  As we have previously noted, on almost every measure, the few states with higher achievement than Kansas spent more per pupil and had far fewer at-risk, low income students.

In other words, far from being “short-changed,” Kansas students get better results than about four-fifths of the other states, even though more than half of the states spend more per pupil than Kansas, and more than half the states have a lower percentage of low income students.  In fact, there is no evidence that spending a higher percentage of current resources on “instruction” would provide better results.  KASB compared instructional spending as a percent of current spending with state results on national math and reading tests at fourth and eighth grade, and found a small negative relationship between two.  That means states spending a higher percentage on instruction were slightly less likely to have higher student achievement.  (KASB analysis of national data comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress for reading and math, and Public Education Finances: 2011).

Which brings us to the final point.  Schools are often accused of failing to operate like a business.  Yet what analysis of business operations would begin (and end) with the share of spending going to a particular segment of the workforce, rather than looking at results?  For some critics of public education, the implication is that local school board members are incapable of making good decisions about how to allocate resources and staff – despite the fact that Kansas schools continue to deliver “top ten” results while spending less than most states and educating a higher percentage of income students than more states.

It’s up to school leaders to change that perception.  You can share with Legislators, parents and the public the real data about your school district’s employees and how you spend your money.  This page on the KSDE website takes you to a number of KSDE reports.  Clicking on “personnel” allows you to access spreadsheets listing the Certified and Noncertified employees in each district, for school years 2008-09 through 2012-13.  This page allows you to access information on the current operating expenditures for the entire state and each district for 2011-12, and previous years back to 2004-05.

Of course, the KASB research department can help you access this information and prepare customized reports for your districts.

The chart below shows the statewide change between 2002 and 2003 for all categories of school district employees, grouped by school district budget “function.”