Funding Missouri’s Schools = Advancing Missouri’s Future

School funding is not a particularly exciting topic, but it’s extremely important. All of us—each educator, legislator, employer, and parent—should be well-informed when it comes to how our P-12 public schools are funded. While it’s true that money doesn’t always guarantee success and high performance, it’s very difficult to make substantial progress without adequate fiscal support. Here are some important facts based on 2017 state rankings and 2018 school statistics estimates of school statistics data:

  • There are 556 operating school districts in Missouri, ranking 10th in the nation.
  • Missouri ranks 34th in the nation for its number of high school graduates.
  • The average salary for public school teachers in 2015–16 was $58,064 in current dollars (i.e., dollars that are not adjusted for inflation).
  • In constant (i.e., inflation-adjusted) dollars, the average salary for teachers was 1% lower in 2015–16 than in 1990–91.
  • Ranking 41st in the nation, the average Missouri teacher salary in 2017 was just over $48,000.
  • School funding per enrolled student in Missouri actually went down in the last fiscal year:
    • 2016: $12,551 per pupil (26th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,069 per pupil (30th in the nation)
  • Likewise, school funding per student in average daily attendance also went down:
    • 2016: $13,074 (29th in the nation)
    • 2017: $12,578 (31st in the nation)
  • The bulk of funding for Missouri’s schools comes from local government sources and remained about the same over the last two years:
    • 2016: 58.6% (4th in the nation)
    • 2017: 58.5% (4th in the nation)
  • Only about a third of the funding for Missouri’s public schools comes from state government sources, which is far behind what most other state governments contribute:
    • 2016: 32.7% (48th in the nation)
    • 2017: 33.0% (47th in the nation)
  • Even federal government funding for Missouri’s public schools dropped in the last two years:
    • 2016: 8.7% (28th nationally)
    • 2017: 8.4% (27th nationally)
  • Missouri is in the middle of the pack when it comes to per-student enrolled expenditures, and it remained almost flat over the past two years:
    • 2016: $10,784 (27th in rank)
    • 2017: $10,826 (28th in rank)

2018-19 Projections

Based on trend data, Missouri will not fare well during the 2018-19 academic year:

  • The number of teachers will drop by 6.5%.
  • The number of all instructional staff will drop by 6.5%.
  • The average teacher salary will increase by 1.2% to just over $49,000. It is should be noted though that when calculating for inflation, teacher salaries are projected to show a 4% decline between 2009-2018.
  • Federal revenue receipts are expected to drop by 9%.
  • Meanwhile, expenditures per student enrolled are expected to rise by 1.7%.

 

So, what’s the takeaway? What does this mean for Missouri schools and for our state?

  • We have a lot of school districts operating the state.
  • All these districts must share a pot of money that’s shrinking each year.
  • State funding is woefully inadequate, near the bottom of all 50 states, and federal funding is less than 9% of what school districts receive.
  • That lays the bulk of responsibility to keep school doors open on the shoulders of local government. If this trend continues, property taxes must continue to rise to make up for the state and federal shortfall.
  • Missouri school districts are having to make very tough choices in order to operate within their limited budget. As a result, updating textbooks, buying microscopes, repairing technology, and the like have to be put on the back burner.
  • Missouri is losing its teachers. Some are retiring; some are moving to other states; and some are leaving the profession for more pay. This will lead to an even greater teacher shortage and will reduce the quality of instruction. Remember that research has proven time after time that teacher quality is the #1 factor in student achievement. If we fail to properly invest in our teachers and provide them with the kind of ongoing professional support they need to be successful, we are ultimately turning our backs on our state’s students.

 

Being a Part of the Solution: What Can We Do?

The state of Missouri offers endless opportunities for technology incubators, economic growth, cutting edge healthcare, tourism, and the like. Our residents are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and tackle the hard jobs. We can address the challenges that our P-12 public schools are facing, and we can work together to make wise choices for the future.

Rather than the bulk of decisions being made by lawmakers who are influenced by lobbyists representing special interest groups, it’s important to receive input from those directly impacted: School administrators, teachers, community members, workforce representatives, parents, and of course, students. And, input needs to be much more than a hearing or two held in Jefferson City–these groups need to have a seat at the table and actually play a role in influencing decisions, allocations, and public policy. We need greater transparency and greater communication; a school superintendent should not have to learn of a funding cut through the local newspaper or on television. These stakeholders must be treated with respect and their insights should be taken seriously. Lawmakers should be out in their districts on a regular basis, not just for photo ops or fundraising, but for sincere listening and collaboration.

If lawmakers in Jefferson City are truly interested in promoting academic excellence in our state, they will create a structure in their districts to encourage active collaboration with constituents. It wouldn’t be that difficult, and I suspect they wouldn’t have any problem getting participants. I’ll start by raising my hand to be a part of the solution–who else is with me?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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The Four-Day School Week: Not a Bandwagon We Should Jump On

Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. As a cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society.

The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough highly-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and English language learning. As a result, some school districts have been forced to find ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.

Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?

Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts. In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.

However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, then the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion of public-school districts with one or more schools on a four-day week at 98. Missouri currently has 28 schools on a four-day schedule.

How is a Four-Day School Week Implemented? 

The most common model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule. Most states require a minimum number of days and instructional contact hours in each school year; schools that have adopted a four-day week simply reconfigure their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.

How Big are the Savings to School Districts?

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Depending on the size of the district, savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly in states that have cut funding for P-12 schools. However, no savings are noted for staff salaries and benefits, given that staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.

What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?

Based on a perception study conducted by Turner, Finch, & Ximena, school staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas such as math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, very little formal research has been conducted on four-day school weeks, so the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.

But What About Impact on Students?

Health & Safety: While some stay-at-home parents/guardians indicate they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week, plus the cost of paying for such care. In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.

Nutrition: The vast majority of students in those 28 Missouri districts that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.

Juvenile Delinquency: When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. In their research, Fischer and Argyle (2018) analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase in juvenile crime.

Student Learning and Achievement: Very little quality research has been conducted on the long-term academic impact of a shortened school week, so the field is ripe for study. State departments of education should be very cautious when approving requests for a shortened school week and should monitor performance closely over time. A starting point is to focus in on one state at a time and track various data points longitudinally. To that end, some insights can be gleaned about the 28 Missouri school districts that have elected to adopt a four-day week schedule based on an analysis of data publicly available from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

  • Out of the 28 Missouri school districts on a four-day schedule, only 1 received full accreditation with no sanctions during their last Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) accreditation site visit.
  • Five out of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 1 sanctions, meaning officials must adopt a District Improvement Plan designed to improve key areas of concern. Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) will be monitored closely by state department officials.
  • Three of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 2 sanctions, citing a higher level of concern by MSIP teams. Level 2 schools are under even greater scrutiny to demonstrate growth and improvement.
  • Thirteen out of 28—that’s more than 46%–of the school districts on a four-day schedule received District Improvement Level 3 sanctions – the most severe of all sanctions while still maintaining accreditation. In these cases, the last MSIP accreditation review revealed numerous serious concerns relative to program quality, student achievement, and other related indicators.
  • Of those 13 districts earning Level 3 sanctions, only two exceeded the 2018 Missouri per-pupil expenditure average. The remaining 26 school districts all are currently spending less than the state average per pupil. While not conclusive, these data suggest there is a correlation between the amount of funding school districts receive and student achievement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

A well-educated society is essential to a healthy, thriving culture. Without a solid educational foundation our skilled workforce will diminish, and entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Our pool of thought-leaders and problem solvers will decrease, and over time the strength of our nation will be challenged.

Given the important role that our public schools have played in our nation’s success, it is imperative that we continue to recognize the need to fully fund them. School officials should not be forced into making tough choices that could jeopardize learning. Every single student in the United States deserves an educational experience that is second to none, regardless of the color of his skin, the native language spoken in her home, or the zip code in which they live. Every. Single. Student.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

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