Three Bens Could Lead Colorado K-12 to Three Million Benjamins in Savings

Recently, I raised the issue of how PERA reform could fit into the ongoing school finance reform debates. It certainly lessens the sense of a “grand bargain” — tying reforms to a billion-dollar tax increase — when such big issues are left off the table.

But then I came across the information in a Friedman Foundation sequel study, Part II of The School Staffing Surge. Then, as now, we can do better than having Colorado’s K-12 education system as a jobs program, correct?

As this Washington Times story by Ben Wolfgang (cool name, huh?) details:

Each day at school, students in 21 states will see more librarians, bus drivers, coaches, cafeteria workers and office personnel than teachers, according to a new study that examined school hiring patterns over the past 20 years.

Looking at numbers from the U.S. Department of Education, Friedman scholar Benjamin Scafidi includes Colorado among the 21 states with teachers making up less than half of K-12 employees. This finding meshes with something a Ben I know better — the Education Policy Center’s Ben DeGrow — pointed out in his 2010 Citizens Budget report:

While 58 percent of Colorado K-12 operational spending is directed toward the classroom, only 48 percent of K-12 personnel are classroom teachers. The ratio of fewer than one classroom teacher for every non-teacher K-12 employee is even lower than the national average of 51 percent.

What if non-teaching K-12 personnel had just grown at the same rate as student enrollment from 1992 (the year Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights passed) to 2009? Scafidi estimates our state could save $526.5 million a year, enough to increase the average teacher’s salary by $10,813! Without a tax increase!!

Wow, that number sort of puts a different shine on the discussion to raise education taxes by a billion dollars or so a year, doesn’t it? Now, to be fair, that $526.5 million figure most certainly would be somewhat lower now. Just not nearly enough to keep me from saying Colorado K-12 could save a sizable sum by reducing administrative burdens and competitively contracting for non-classroom services.

The fact that I’ve been able to glean this insight from the work of three different guys named Ben adds up to more than three million Benjamins in potential education efficiencies. Let the innovative changes grow and multiply!