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Here’s a piece Shad White wrote, originally published in the Sun Herald:
Shortly after coming into office, I asked staff at the State Auditor’s office to research an important question: was the public education system in Mississippi spending too much money outside the classroom?
Over the last year and a half, we’ve been combing through data to understand how our education system spends your money. It’s a key question for teachers and parents, and I care about it personally, too. I went to public schools in South Mississippi from kindergarten through 12th grade, and then to a Mississippi public university, and that education served as a springboard for the rest of my life — to a Rhodes Scholarship, a degree from Harvard Law, and all the doors that have been opened to me since.
I’m forever grateful for what public schools gave me, and I want to make sure the next generation of public school students has that same set of opportunities.
After reviewing our extensive research, my concern is that some school districts and the education bureaucracy have taken their eye off the most important thing: putting resources into the classroom. No one would question that the most critical employees in our schools are the teachers. We’ve got to pay them well and give them the supplies they need if we expect good results.
But the data show we don’t always do that. Consider some of our findings:
– Mississippi’s spending on administrative costs has gone up faster than spending on instruction over the last 10 years.
– If outside-the-classroom spending had been kept the same, per student, over the last ten years, Mississippi could afford an $11,000 pay raise to every teacher.
– Per pupil spending on teachers’ salaries has gone down in Mississippi by 3% over the last ten years, while per pupil spending on administrative salaries has gone up by 10%, adjusted for inflation.
– Among Southern states (every state from Delaware to Oklahoma, for our analysis), only Washington, DC, spent a higher percentage of education money on administration than Mississippi.
– The number of deputy superintendents has grown considerably, per pupil, over the past few years in Mississippi.
– Over the past few years, superintendents, deputy superintendents, and assistant principals have received higher average dollar salary increases than teachers.
– The ratio of superintendents to students is significantly higher in Mississippi than in other similar states.
We have some great school districts doing an excellent job putting money into teachers and the classroom, but clearly the overall data show a concerning trend. We as parents, taxpayers, and teachers need to demand that money be spent closest to the students. In Mississippi, money doesn’t grow on trees (it doesn’t anywhere, actually). We’ve got to be better stewards of public education funds than our surrounding states if we’re going to catch up.
I’ve been called all sorts of names for pointing out these facts. A columnist working at a large North Mississippi newspaper flat out called me a racist. A well-known education activist said I was attacking public schools.
I’m willing to take a little verbal abuse if it means we have a better understanding of the facts. I’ve never been one to shy from a fight, as long as the fight’s worth having. And I know that when someone says I’m attacking public schools, they’re both afraid of the facts and, frankly, don’t know much about my background. My mother was a public school teacher for 35 years, working on her feet, every day. My grandmother and grandfather met as public school teachers in Mississippi. To say that I hate public schools makes as much sense as saying the Pope hates the Catholic Church.
So let’s stop the childish attacks, and let’s focus on the next steps. Here’s what my office is going to do to help solve this problem, not just point it out. This month we’re launching a pilot project with three school districts around the state. We’re bringing in some top data analytics experts, and we’re going to examine every expenditure made by these school districts. We’re going to look for administrative expenditures that are too high compared to regional benchmarks, programs that do not improve student achievement, spending on software or other tools that might be duplicative or unused, etc. When we’re done, we’re going to publish those findings.
My hope is that other school districts will use our pilot project as a model and work to find money they can reallocate to the classroom, too. Working together, administrators, auditors, and teachers can make our system work better for the most important people in our schools: the students.