Both sides of the teacher pay funding debate are throwing out “facts” and figures in defense of their positions. Conservatives argue that we do not have a funding problem , we have a spending problem. Progressives argue the opposite.
The governor threw a temper tantrum last week, and vetoed 10 bills with a message to legislators that they better approve his massive spending proposal or else. Legislators argue that there is no way to give him what he wants without a tax increase.
Meanwhile, the teachers union has rejected Ducey’s scheme. With little to no actual information, they claim that the proposed funding is not sustainable.
While the union, governor, and legislators hold their ground, propaganda is pouring out to support their positions. The propaganda is powerful and the propagandists are prolific.
So far, as is always the case, teachers and taxpayers are the losers as the powers-that-be on both sides lie, ignore, and posture.
Misinformation, disinformation, and meaningless statistics
Last week, the Arizona Center for Investigative Journalism released an article proclaiming: “No link between school district administration costs, teacher pay.” The article was written to challenge messaging from “the State Policy Network, a network of conservative think tanks, that aims to discredit the nationwide movement to increase teacher pay urges conservatives and anti-union activists to turn the conversation to how “red tape and bureaucracy” and “administrative bloat” suppresses teacher pay.” The article continues:
And Gov. Doug Ducey, who last week announced a proposal to increase teacher pay by 20 percent by 2021, used his first State of the State speech in 2015 to blame school districts for spending “far too much on administrative costs” instead of directly on instruction.
But an AZCIR analysis of school district spending data compiled by the Arizona Auditor General’s Office shows no correlation between how much a school district spends on administration and how it pays its teachers.
It sounds impressive, but it fails to address “red tape and bureaucracy” and “administrative bloat” in a meaningful way, and completely ignores the fact that schools received fixed amounts from which they then dole out teacher and administrative pay. There is an absolute relationship between administrative and instruction costs because they come from the same pot. The fact that they are not positively or negatively correlated only addresses the “suppresses teacher pay” claim.
Is there administrative bloat?
In June 2017, Jose Borrajero penned a piece entitled How To Give Teachers A $10K Pay Raise. Borrajero asked if Arizona could afford to give every K-12 teacher a $10,000 annual pay raise without increasing school budgets?” He found that yes in fact, Arizona could afford it if school boards “get serious about teacher compensation instead of using it as an excuse to demand more funding, of which only 53.5% has been ending up in the classroom.”
“Simple arithmetic shows us that if we were to take the 2016 level of funding and allocate to the classroom the same percentage as we did in 2004 (58.6%), we would have had an additional $524 million going to the classroom, sufficient to have given every teacher a $10,692 pay raise, without any further raping of the taxpayers,” wrote Borrajero. “Why is this not happening? Good question for school administrators.”
2008 was the high water mark for education spending in Arizona. Because Redfored uses 2008 as a reference point when discussing ideal funding, we asked the Arizona Auditor General’s Office for information on the increase of administrative costs, including salaries compared to the increase in classroom costs including teacher pay since 2008. Vicki Hanson, Director of the Arizona Auditor General’s Division of School Audits responded:
“In our fiscal year (FY) 2008 report, we reported that of the $7,813 in total per pupil operational spending, $4,480 or 57.3% was spent on instruction. 9.2% or about $719 was spent on administration. If you were to adjust these numbers for inflation to fiscal year 2017 dollars as we do in Figure 1 on page 5 of our FY17 report (https://www.azauditor.gov/sites/default/files/18-203_Report_with_Pages.pdf), FY08 total per pupil operational spending is more like $8,955, which would be about $5,131 on instruction and $824 on administration.
“In our FY17 report, we reported that of the $8,141 in total per pupil operational spending, $4,377 or 53.8% was spent on instruction. 10.4% or about $844 was spent on administration.
|AZ School Spending||2008||2017|
|Spending On Instruction||$4,480||$4,377|
|% Spending On Instruction||57.30%||53.80%|
|Spending On Administration||$719||$844|
|% Spending On Administration||9.20%||10.40%|
|Total Per Pupil Operational Spending||$7,813||$8,141|
|Per pupil spending in 2008 compared to 2017 adjusted for inflation|
Had 2008’s 57.3 percent instructional spending level held, today’s instructional spending would be at $4764 as opposed to the $4377 currently spent on instruction. With 1.1 million students, and 64,267 teachers reported by the Arizona Department of Education for FY2018, teachers would see an increase in pay of $6623.92. ($387 X 1.1 mil = $425,700,000 | $425,700,000 / 64,267 = $6623.92829913).
Looking for solutions
Legislators are looking for solutions that won’t break the bank and will get teachers the pay they deserve. Republican legislators believe that the governor’s plan is not feasible. Legislators like Rep. Kelly Townsend are looking closely at options:
Consolidation would eliminate some of the most egregious wasteful spending. Case in point: last week the Auditor General release the findings of performance audit of Mobile Elementary School:
In fiscal year 2016, Mobile ESD spent $17,178 per pupil on administration, much more than the peer districts’ $2,987 average, partly because it served fewer students than peer districts, on average, and therefore, costs were spread across fewer students. However, the high costs were also the result of the District employing a full-time superintendent with a relatively high salary. Further, in fiscal year 2017, Mobile ESD increased the Superintendent’s salary 24 percent, which will further increase future administrative costs.
Consolidation is met with stiff opposition from school boards, who want to maintain their own power. It is those same school boards that approved the decrease in the percent of money spent on instruction over the years. For some reason, they are not being held responsible by the teachers for the current inequity. Many believe the school boards are given a pass because the Redfored movement is strictly political, and organizers have no interest in replacing school board members, they want to replace Ducey.