According to the Census Bureau, in 2008, Education America (public primary/secondary) spent $593 billion, of which $582 billion was revenue-based, and $11 billion was borrowed. Of the revenue, 48.3% was local, 43.7% State, and 8% Federal.
<ASIDE>This represents $10,259 per pupil, which means that from K-12 and assuming the costs don't change too much, the state will spend $133K per child during their 13 years in school. If offered, I wonder how many parents would just take the money and leave their child in the dust?
One of the biggest casualties of the recent economic crisis is of course real estate prices; close behind are consumer spending and individual and corporate income (and hence income tax). The first is the biggest contributor to local revenue, and the latter two are the biggest contributors to state revenue. None of the three is forecast to return to pre-recession levels anytime soon, which means that the source of more than 90% of Education America's funding is at risk of being much less generous for the foreseeable future.
Since salaries and benefits are the largest chunk of education budgets, the states and districts are looking to nuke jobs. According to a recent Newsweek article, unions require that they respect tenure in this process, which means that urban/underserved students are the worst-affected, as younger teachers (with less/no tenure) tend to work in those schools.
The effect of the budget cuts is therefore a greater division between the haves and have-nots.
There are so many things wrong with this picture, I don't know where to begin. Education is often an early target for cuts because it doesn't directly affect voters. No-one pays attention to the fact that this is the surest way to perpetuate bad economic times and an increased future reliance on assistive public services (welfare, unemployment insurance, the whole legal system, supported healthcare, etc.), and hence a heavier burden on state and local budgets.
Paul Guppy of the Washington [State] Policy Center published an article last month that is worth a read:
- Student populations in Seattle and Spokane have declined over the last 30 years while adjusted education spending has doubled.
- Despite increased funding, almost 1/3 (half when looking just at minority students) of public school students drop out.
- Only 59 cents out of every dollar goes into the classroom!
- Average teacher pay (with benefits) in Spokane for example is $81k for a 10-month year; administrators in Spokane earn $107.670 in salary and benefits.
- Washington State has 101,700 public school employees, but less than half are teachers!
I'm guessing Washington State is not unique, that these data would be similar anywhere in the USA. A couple of things surprised me: teacher pay isn't horrible, but administrator pay is so much higher (though I suspect that's a full-year vs. 10 months); less than 60% of the budget goes towards the classroom; and more than half the employees are NOT teachers.
BUT - when you hear about layoffs, more often than not, it's the teachers getting nuked - hardly surprising given that the administrators manage budgets and hiring/firing.
So what to do? First there are 14,866 school districts in the United States, about 300 of which are in Washington State. Each district has its own administrative and operations machine, curriculum system, fund raising system, unions (both teacher and public service employees), and goodness knows what other redundancies.
I know that the Constitution (by omission) gives the States power over education, but why does Washington State have to have almost 300 districts? There's nothing in the Constitution that says that education must be that local? Maybe this was reasonable back in the horse & buggy days (literally), but surely modern roads and communications have obviated the need for that level of localness? Why not just have one district? Surely that's better for Washington students?
The 2008 Education budget for Washington State was $11.6 billion, and 66.2% or $7.7 billion was for wages and benefits. Since we know that there are more administrators than teachers, and that teachers get paid less than administrators, we can safely assume that more than half the payroll $$ go to administrators; let's call it half ($3.85 billion) for the sake of argument. Now let's say we are able to consolidate 300 districts into 1, and that that results in a 50% reduction in administrative staff (It should be higher, but...).
The result? The 2008 budget goes from $11.6 to $9.7 billion, saving $1.9 billion. Even better, there would be one consistent education system across the state, sharing curriculum, process, policy, etc.; and of course one consistent student experience.
Extrapolate this to the whole country (with the same assumptions), the budget would go from $593 - $492 billion, a savings of $101 billion, and we would have 50 school districts instead of 14,866.
This isn't innovation, simply process improvement. It does not require a Constitutional amendment. It simply requires that every state receive some percentage of local taxes (real estate), but in the end spend less money.
I would NOT suggest the savings go back into education - we should instead pay down the state deficits.
If we wanted innovation, I would put together a small (10 people) think tank, lock them in a room for three months, and task them with the following:
- Design a primary/secondary education system where every child's success is assured, and where each child is treated equitably.
- Prepare every graduate so that they are equipped to deal with an ever-changing future.
- Do this with a budget of $2,500 per student per year, growing at the inflation rate.
I'd like to believe they'd emerge three months later with a plan, and also be able to say, "With the budget you gave us, we'll be able to set aside $500/student/year as a fund to cover us in tough times."
In today's world the 14,866:50 consolidation is political suicide, and the think tank's heresy. So why not do one and then the other?