When K-12 education funding is discussed in Idaho, it is frequently noted that Idaho ranks low in spending per student compared to other states. Recently the national left-wing teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), published a study that ranked Idaho dead last. The problem with the NEA’s numbers: They don’t actually match what Idaho spends. (As of this writing the NEA has not responded to information requests.). Based on Idaho figures that we will review further, there is plenty of money in Idaho’s K-12 system to pay excellent teachers enough to teach students in a way that will benefit students, parents, and teachers.
The NEA report states Idaho spent $7,251 per student for current expenditures during the 2018-19 school year, based on average daily attendance. Idaho State Department of Education financial summaries are far more detailed and provide a much different picture. Idaho spent, all funds, $10,378 Idaho SDOE, Public School Finance, 2018-2019, Financial Summaries of Idaho Schools, Expenditures per ADA per student and this included federal funds and local tax dollars allocated for school construction. When you exclude federal funds but include all local funds the amount spent per student is about $9,440. Apparently the NEA folks believe we should exclude capital outlay, debt, and other programs including summer school, personnel retraining, recreational activities, and many other education line items. Based on their calculations, the NEA excludes about 20% of actual education spending. Why? These educational expenses are still paid by taxpayers.
How much of the $9,440 spent per student actually is paid to Idaho’s teachers in salaries and benefits — per student in the classroom? To determine that amount, we turn to another State Department of Education report. Idaho SDOE, Public School Finance, 2018-2019, the Statewide Certificated Staff Salary Report Idaho’s certificated teachers’ salaries and benefits per student equate to about $3,900 per year. In other words, well under half of per-pupil spending goes to teachers in the classroom. The rest of the money is spent on other staff, which includes everything from counselors to administrators, physical therapists to IT professionals. Additional funds are spent on buildings, supplies, transportation, and foodservice.
So, let’s construct an alternative education system. If one teacher tutored and taught 10 students in a “micro-school,” and we took no federal funds, we could allocate about $94,400 to that teacher for salary and benefits and perhaps some supplies. How much could we pay that teacher on average compared to the actual salary and benefits that teachers currently earn? According to the Idaho salary report Idaho SDOE, Public School Finance, 2018-2019, the Statewide Certificated Staff Salary Report the average K-12 teacher’s salary in 2018-19 was $50,755 and if we apply benefits, that average equates to some $68,800. So we could pay teachers more money to teach fewer kids and still have money left over for supplies and personal computers.
This is an option we should provide to Idaho’s K-12 students and their parents.
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