/Education funding State auditor critical of out-of-classroom spending in report some call ‘an attack job on public schools’

Education funding State auditor critical of out-of-classroom spending in report some call ‘an attack job on public schools’

Nonprofit Mississippi News – A day after Gov. The Mississippi Auditor’s Office released a report criticizing local districts and the Mississippi Department of Education for overspending outside of the classroom, a day after Gov. Phil Bryant signed a $1500 pay increase for public school teachers. In a Wednesday report, Shad White, the State Auditor, stated that Mississippi could afford to pay a more than $11,000 raise to all teachers if classroom spending had been maintained at the same level per student for the past ten years. The report, which is three pages long, outlines K-12 spending across four categories: instructional, administrative, non-instructional and instructional support. According to the report, while teacher enrollment has decreased over time, spending has not. According to the report, administrative expenses such as travel and salaries for superintendents, and office costs have increased by more than 17 percent over the past 10 years. In 2016, the school year saw $968 million in spending. The report also mentions that administrative and other non-instructional costs “does not directly affect students inside the classroom.” Mississippi Department of Education responded to this assertion in an email. The department stated that while teacher salaries account for the largest portion of instructional spending, principals and other key administrative leaders who are instructional leaders within their schools or districts have a direct effect on classroom learning. “Mississippi students achieved unprecedented gains in the recent years due to the hard work of teachers, staff, and administrators in schools across the state.” Others claim that the report and its contents were published for political reasons. Nancy Loome, executive director at The Parent’s Campaign, stated that the report is an attack job on public school systems. “What (Shad White), intended it to be is political cover for his friends, and that should be great red flag to people when that is what he is using his office for to issue an audit-like report which is really just a political cover to leadership.” White countered that notion by stating that this would not be the politically ideal time to make his findings public. However, that was not enough to stop him from making them public. He stated that if he had released the report in session, people would have said, “Oh, you did this to manipulate political process and the discussion around teacher raises.” The Legislature was divided over the issue of teacher pay earlier this year. However, lawmakers settled on $1,500 to cover teachers and their assistants. Teachers took to social media to voice their dismay at the amount and to discuss the possibility to strike after the bill was passed. Bryant signed the bill to raise pay into law on April 16. The auditor’s report, which revealed that spending outside the classroom had “ballooned” over the past 10 years, was released on April 17. Bryant applauded Bryant’s Facebook post. The governor wrote, “Good work by Auditor Shad white.” “We must address out-of-classroom expenditure and put more funding into the classroom with our teachers and students.” Loome, executive director of Parent’s Campaign, stated that the auditor’s reports do not reflect the true picture of education funding. According to the organization, the cumulative inflation rate for 2007-2017 was 18.2 percent. The total state budget, which excludes education, increased 50 percent. The education funding had increased by 9.5%, which is not in line with inflation. White stated that he did not include inflation estimates in the report due to the inaccuracy of the algorithm used to calculate them. It measures the rise in price of goods for urban consumers. “Mississippi is, of course not an urban state. We are a rural state. It’s not clear to me that CPI, as a measure for inflation, is all that large a measure the rise in the price goods in Mississippi,” he stated. The Legislature had underfunded the Mississippi Adequate Education program, which provides most of the state funding for local school districts’ basic operations, by $2.5 billion since 2007. MAEP covers the state’s portion of all spending, from superintendents and administrative staff to utilities, textbooks, teacher salaries, and utilities. Loome stated that the report’s spending includes funds from both federal and state sources. Federal law prohibits the use of federal funds to replace state funds. He is putting all of that together to suggest that you should spend more money on teacher salary.” she stated. Loome stated that teachers are angry because the state auditor was asked by legislative leadership to create this absurd piece that suggested that local districts could have the money to pay a teacher raise. “The Legislature sets teacher salaries.” Federal mandates require that districts spend federal funds for specific purposes, other than classroom use. For example, free lunch programs. Other education advocates stated that producing a report that doesn’t take into account these nuances and categorizes all administrative spending as such was unfair and too broad. The report’s purpose is to provide information about these mandates. White stated that there may be federal mandates that require excessive or unreasonable spending. Mississippi Department of Education noted that teacher salaries make up a significant portion of school district budgets. According to the department, local districts create their budgets by using the state-mandated teacher pay scale as well as taking into account the administrative and operational expenses needed to support students and teachers. According to the auditor’s report, enrollment in Mississippi public schools has declined. The number of students enrolled in Mississippi public schools this year is 470,668, which is more than 20,000 less than the 2008-09 school years. Although total school enrollment has declined by 3 percent over that period, educators argue that this reduction will not be sufficient to close schools, eliminate utility costs or reduce the number administrators, lunchroom workers, utility costs and other such personnel. White’s report stated that “Our state’s total expenditure on K-12 education has continued to rise.” “Mississippi policymakers must ask tough questions about where the money is being spent, whether teachers are getting enough benefits, and whether spending is making an impact on student outcomes,” White’s report said. The total education spending for 2016-17 was $5.5 billion. This figure appears to include both state and local funds. Federal funds are normally earmarked for specific purposes. According to the auditor’s audit, $3.1 billion of that $5.5 billion was directed towards instruction and instruction support. Bobby Harrison Contributing: Bobby Harrison Join us in supporting this work by making a recurring gift today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this one.