It’s Time to Rethink How We Fund Public Education
It’s quite clear that we’re facing a series of fights over who gets the dwindling pot of public money in Missouri over the next couple of years. Tens of thousands of Missourians have lost their jobs and will be looking for more government support. And fewer people working means less state income tax revenue. At the same time, we recently voted to expand Medicaid.
So far, public education has been held basically harmless. Regardless of how or where they’re delivering education, school districts can use attendance numbers from either last year or the year before to calculate their state aid. But that won’t matter if there is less money to distribute. There aren’t many places to cut state spending other than public education. Teachers probably won’t get raises and class sizes will increase. There is likely to be an outcry.
One area where there could be a little give is reconsidering the concept of local control. Missouri has 520 public school districts. The average Missouri school district has just over 400 students. That’s a school, not a district. We have 64 districts that had 50 or fewer students in 2018–19. I know that communities feel strongly about their Eagles or their Tigers, but it’s really expensive to have so many separate bureaucracies.
According to the fiscal survey administered by the U.S. Department of Education every year, Missouri had over $360 million dollars in general administration spending in 2016–17 (latest year available). This includes expenditures for board of education and executive administration services and other school district administrative functions. At roughly $400 per student, Missouri is ranked 12th from the top when it comes to general administrative spending.
About half of Missouri’s general administrative spending was for salaries and the other half for benefits. Indeed, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reported that in 2018–19, there were 281 district superintendents with salaries (before benefits) over $100,000 and 38 that were over $200,000.
This year, many Missouri students are learning from home in microschools or pandemic pods. Parents are picking up the cost of supplies and even paying tutors to manage online schooling. I think it’s time to start asking if we need to continue to spend over one-third of a billion dollars on bureaucracy, or if it’s time to rethink how we fund public education?