Opinion

Examiner Local Editorial: 'Top Heavy' Virginia disputes school staffing study

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Opinion,Local Editorial

A just-released study by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice explains why public schools have become such a huge drag on local budgets. Between 1992 and 2009, the number of K-12 students increased 17 percent nationwide, but the number of full-time school employees shot up 39 percent, adding $24 billion annually to the cost of public education.

Analyzing data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center on Education Statistics, or NCES, the study singled out Virginia for increasing nonteaching staff 100 percent despite a mere 22 percent hike in student enrollment. The excess 60,737 school personnel cost Virginia taxpayers the equivalent of a $29,007 annual raise per teacher.

Teachers in Virginia made up only 34.9 percent of total school staff in 2009, compared with 50.5 percent in Maryland and 52 percent in the District. This despite the fact that D.C. was increasing its administrative staff 42 percent while enrollment declined 15 percent.

The Virginia Department of Education challenged the study's conclusion that the commonwealth is the most "Top Heavy" state in the nation. Acknowledging that the problem "is on our end," DOE spokesman Charles Pyle said the state superintendent's office is looking into whether changes in how the department reported staffing data since 2005 account for Virginia's current "outlier" status.

The problem with this "oops, we reported the wrong data" excuse is that every other state got the same federal forms and reporting instructions. At the very least, the state agency that sets accountability standards for local school divisions should be able to correctly differentiate between teachers and nonteachers.

A more likely explanation is that the number of nonclassroom personnel really did explode, just as the NCES data indicate. Evidence can be found in Fairfax County, Virginia's largest school division, where classroom teachers now make up less than half of all school employees -- and earn $9,000 less on average than central staff administrators.

"What the [Friedman] study shows is there's been a dramatic shift in how we staff our schools," Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Institute, told The Washington Examiner's Michal Conger. "When districts complain there's not enough money to pay teachers, that's because of the hiring choices they've made."

Exactly. Which also explains why so little of the $33.7 million school budget increase recommended by the county attorney for next year will ever make it to your kid's classroom.

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