CN|2’s Ryan Alessi recently interviewed James Comer (R), Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture, about budget issues in the now open Kentucky legislative session, and Comer was quick to point to a major push for funding changes in education.
However, Comer didn’t call for more revenue. Instead, he pointed out that a lot of our education dollars never reach it to the classroom, or to teachers’ wallets, either. Comer thinks we should be able to raise teachers’ salaries by getting some of Kentucky’s excessive education overhead costs under better control.
I think Comer is on to something. The Bluegrass Institute has pointed out for years that Kentucky has one of the worst ratios of teachers to other school staff of any state in the country. And, the situation has deteriorated since the early days of KERA.
Back in 1989, prior to the enactment of KERA, Kentucky already had staff bloat problems. Still, teachers comprised just over 50 percent of all the staff in Kentucky’s public schools, and we ranked as the 43 worst for staff bloat. Flash forward to the most recently available data for 2010, and Kentucky’s teachers only comprised 42 percent of the staffing in our schools, and our rank for staff bloat sank even further to 49th place out of the 50 states plus Washington, DC schools.
Could we reduce some of that non-teaching staff and use the money to increase teachers’ pay?
For some perspective, in 2010 the most school-staff-efficient state was South Carolina, where teachers made up 69 percent of all school staffers. The average teacher to staff ratio in the country was 50.4 percent in 2010. Why does Kentucky have such a low, 42 percent teacher-to-staff ratio when other states do this much more efficiently?
Who comprises the non-teacher staff? The Digest of Education Statistics 2012 says on Page 64:
“All other public school staff” includes administrative staff, principals, librarians, guidance counselors, secretaries, custodial staff, food service workers, school bus drivers, and other professional and nonprofessional staff.”
This same page also says:
“Two staff categories increased more than 100 percent between 1980 and 2010—instructional aides, which rose 125 percent, and instruction coordinators, which rose 237 percent.”
Those instruction coordinators had to be added because of quality problems with line teachers. Over the time period mentioned, teachers became less and less well versed in the subjects they were trying to teach and more expert staff had to be added to help bring those teachers up to speed.
There is a current awareness of this teacher preparation problem. Recently, Bob King, the President of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, told a Kentucky board of education meeting that incoming teacher candidates in the state university system posted the lowest average ACT scores and had the highest requirements for remedial coursework upon college entry. Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has also raised concerns about teacher preparation programs that supply many of the teachers in the state’s Eastern school districts.
Ideally, if teachers were graduating from our education schools with proper preparation, those instructional coordinators would no longer be necessary, and their salaries could be divided among working classroom teachers, instead.
Instructional aides are also a problematic expense. 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.
So, Mr. Comer is on to something. We need to take a hard look at staffing in Kentucky’s schools to find out why our state is one of the most staff-inefficient in the nation and whether that money would be better spent to attract better prepared teachers, instead.