One of our long-time, major concerns with public education in Kentucky has always been the very low proportion of teachers compared to the total number of staff members in the state’s public school system (See one old example in our original Bang for the Buck report on school efficiency which I authored a decade ago in 2006).
In fact, I was writing about the staffing issue even before the Bluegrass Institute was on anyone’s “radar screen.” Way back in April 2003, months before I knew anything about the institute, I put out “KERA Update #67” which includes comments about the staffing issue.
The truth is that data adding to our concerns has been available for years in the annually released Digest of Education Statistics stretching back beyond the passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA).
Now, Table 213.40 in the new, 2015 edition of the digest updates school staffing information through 2013, and Kentucky continues to have an obviously out of proportion staffing issue in its schools.
Figure 1 shows how Kentucky’s very low teacher to total staff ratio has ranked over time against the other 49 states and the District of Columbia’s school systems.
As you can see, shortly after KERA was enacted, Kentucky’s already low ranking for teachers in schools sank ever more. Ever since, the state’s teacher manning statistic has pretty much hovered around the very bottom of the stack. Very simply, Kentucky has one of the worst staff manning ratios where it counts the most – front line classroom teachers – of any state in the nation.
It is interesting that back in 1989, the year before KERA came along, just over half the staff membership in each Kentucky public school was comprised of teachers. Now, as Figure 2 shows, that ratio has decayed to the most recently reported situation for 2013 where only 42.8 percent of the staff in each school is composed of teachers.
Much of the low teacher staffing ratio in Kentucky’s schools is reported to be due to more teachers’ aides on site. But, research raises questions about the education value of those aides compared to having more teachers around.
A report prepared for the Kentucky Department of Education in 2003 titled, “A State-Of-The-Art Approach To School Finance Adequacy In Kentucky,” discusses the educational contribution of aides on Page 21, saying “research generally shows they do not add value.” The report suggests not using aides in its recommendations for a comprehensive school reform model.
For sure, if we didn’t have so many non-teacher staffers on our school payrolls, we could afford to hire more teachers and pay those teachers more, too.
Because of the economic issues and the potentially adverse impact this is having on actual education in Kentucky’s public education system, it is time for the legislature to ask some pretty sharp questions about why this picture is so different for Kentucky compared to the vast majority of states in this country. We might find answers that could help us make our education system far stronger if legislators do that.