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)
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).