Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Is Pawlenty pushing up teacher salaries? 

A friend passed along a clip from the EIA Communique that caught her attention.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is supporting a bill in the state legislature that would require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their revenues on classroom instruction. Leaving aside the question of whether this is a good or bad idea, what exactly constitutes classroom instruction spending?


EIA's analysis indicates the United States directs 90 percent of instructional spending to teacher salaries and benefits. The percentages in the states range from Indiana's 96.8 percent to the District of Columbia's 77.5 percent. Minnesota ranks 16th, devoting 91.8 percent of its instructional spending to teacher salaries and benefits.

Since nine of every ten dollars will go to the teacher, it's an unnecessary obfuscation to describe it as higher classroom spending. Unless Minnesota or other states plan to radically change this ratio, they should just call for a floor of about 59 percent of district budgets to go to teacher compensation. But is that what they really want?
My friend was confused by this post, thinking it said that 90% of spending goes to teachers. I first verified that Pawlenty actually said this. It's in the House bill, though not the Senate bill, authorizing state spending on education.I asked the kind folks at the Education Intelligence Agency, who replied,
...an increase in "classroom spending" really means an increase in teacher compensation, since over 90% of classroom spending goes to teachers. So if Gov. Pawlenty wants to increase the district share of the budget going to the classroom, what he is really saying is that he wants districts to devote a larger piece of the pie to teacher compensation.
That is in fact true, as you can see in Table 6 of this report from the U.S. Census. But it's not 91% of total spending, only 91% of what is classified as "instructional spending", which is only 61.1% of all public education spending. What caught my attention was that, if the Minnesota bill that passes uses the US Dept. of Education measurement of "classroom spending" -- which EIA calls a vague term, a point with which I agree -- we would be moving from 61.1% of total school spending going to "classrooms" to a number greater than 65% (since 65% would be a floor, and some would be or already are over that amount.)

To raise that number, one of three things has to happen: We either have to push up school district spending and devote it all to hiring more teachers; we have to give teachers raises; or we have to reallocate district spending away from support services to classrooms. Given the control Education Minne$ota has over this state, I think it's safe to rule out the first option.

I find this a curious notion; we're again finding a Republican administration and the House pushing to manage local school district budgets with a very blunt instrument. I'm hoping someone will explain to me why this is a good idea.

UPDATE: Links to the House and Senate added, along with Pawlenty's statement.