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Note to schools: Here are spending areas to rethink so you spend money more wisely

For all the areas of education that have changed during the coronavirus epidemic, one area has stayed the same—calls for increased K-12 spending. But school spending advocates’ laments about inadequate funding were occurring even before the health care crisis hit. And pre-COVID history has shown us that spending more money on education hasn’t fixed our education woes.

Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, public schools receive more than $14,300 per student every year. Multiply that by the average pupil/teacher ratio currently projected at 15.9, and that results in over $227,300 going into the classroom.

That’s a lot of money. And yet calls for more funds are expected. So, where do we go from here?

Well, we get serious about how money is spent (more accountability) and recognize the limits of money as a solution by itself.

According to a new book by the Teachers College Press called Getting the Most Bang for the Education Book, school leaders and policymakers should focus on rethinking spending decisions so that the dollars they do have and get are spent more wisely and more efficiently.

Below are four spending areas that the analysts and contributors of the book have identified as a good place to start.

Pensions and Benefits

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted a problem that existed well before the pandemic: promised pensions states can’t afford. The rising benefits costs (including retirement costs) continue to eat further into school district budgets. Frederick Hess shares a solution:

Schools should start enrolling future teachers in new retirement vehicles, while asking new staff to pay a share of their health-care costs more similar to that paid by other workers. Such an approach could permit states and districts to shift billions out of future obligations into today’s classrooms, boost actual take-home pay by 15 percent or more, and make teachers active participants in containing costs.

Staffing

By rethinking staffing and management, school districts could get more value for employee compensation. According to Hess:

Schools spend too much on employees who work outside of classrooms and too little on the teachers who actually educate students. They should shift away from the one-teacher-one-classroom model, and toward a model where educators fill a variety of crucial roles, led by the most experienced and accomplished staff. These leaders would split their time between teaching students directly and doing what many of those out-of-classroom hires do: overseeing, aiding, and directing the instruction of their colleagues. This could be an opportunity to routinely pay veteran educators six-figure salaries with the dollars recaptured from bloated bureaucracies.

Technology

Given that “school” for many students now means staring at an iPad or Chromebook, school districts limiting families to a distance learning model should make sure their use of technology is acting as a performance-enhancer and not as a wasteful distraction.

What’s needed is an inclination to use technology to augment and complement classroom teaching. Technology can give students the opportunity to practice new skills, perform experiments in virtual environments, and have one-on-one visits with teachers and counselors — even when the logistics don’t permit in-person contact. Schools must be redesigned to take advantage of these tools.

Operations

Administrative bloat can be trimmed without negatively impacting student achievement.

Whether it’s reducing outlays for substitute teachers, controlling line-item construction costs, outsourcing janitorial services, or streamlining procurement, there are myriad opportunities to bring outmoded district routines into the 21st century.

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