The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Advancing Milton and Rose D. Friedman's Vision of School Choice for All Children

The Gazette | More Fat to Cut From Schools?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jennifer Hemmingsen

The Gazette

The Task Force on Teacher Leadership and Compensation has come up with a big list of recommendations about how to better attract, train and compensate our state’s K-12 teachers.

Task force members estimate it will take $150 million in new money to put their plans into action.

They and Department of Education Director Jason Glass have been very clear on this point. Read our lips: New money.

They say there’s little extra in the system that could be repurposed to give teachers this much-needed support.

I’ve long held that we should give schools the money they need to educate our kids. After years of cuts, I’ve written, there can’t be much fat left.

But a recently released report makes me wonder if that’s really true.

The report, released last week by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, found that even though Iowa’s K-12 student population declined by slightly less than 1 percent between fiscal 1992 and 2009, the number of administrators and other nonteaching staff jumped by nearly 26 percent.

The economist who crunched U.S. Department of Education numbers for the report found no correlating increase in student progress or graduation rates. Iowa has fewer school districts, fewer school buildings and fewer students today than we did 20 years ago. So why the jump in front office staff? Is it really 26 percent more complicated to run a school? I don’t know, maybe it is. But you can’t argue with the fact that we already outspend countries whose students outperform our kids in important subjects such as math and science.

The Friedman Foundation would argue that school choice is the answer to administrative bloat. I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s clearly time to take a look at those numbers.

Raising starting salaries for teachers to $35,000 or more and provide an extra bump for filling high-need jobs. Implementing a five-tier classification system that would create career pathways for model teachers, career teachers, mentor teachers and lead teachers to strengthen a collaborative system with lots of feedback and support — these are good ideas worth funding. With new money, even.

But before we spend more, we should take a hard look at whether or not there isn’t just a little fat left in the system — hiding in the operating budgets for administrators and nonteaching personnel.

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