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Study: TN School Districts Top-Heavy with Bureaucrats

Tennessee teachers could have gotten annual raises of $8,367 over an almost two-decade period, if school boards had curbed growth in the number of administrators they employ.

That’s the message in a new report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, based in Indianapolis.

The bump represents a 17.8 percent increase in pay on the $47,000 salary a typical Tennessee teacher takes home.

Using student population as the benchmark, the foundation examined growth in the central offices in school districts across America, from 1992 to 2009.

The number of non-teaching staff jumped 46 percent nationally, compared to a 17 percent increase in students  – or less than half the rate of growth in the administrative ranks.

Tennessee closely followed the national trend line, with administrators and staff increasing 49 percent, compared to a 17 percent increase in students.

“As the dramatic growth of non-teaching staff in public schools shows, throwing more money at education is not the answer,” said Justin Owen, with the free-market Beacon Center in Nashville. The Beacon Center works with the Friedman Foundation to promote school choice.

“That money simply gets eaten up in the system with nothing to show for it rather than educating our children,” said Owen.

The foundation did the math on potential savings if administrative growth had tracked student population over the study period.

Tennessee would have realized more than $543.2 million in savings annually. Nationally, the figure was more than $24.2 billion annually.

To derive the teacher raises estimate, the foundation took the $543.2 million in savings, divided by the number of teachers in the state in 2009.

View the full report here, as well as an interactive, state-by-state map.

The foundation was established by economist Milton Friedman and his wife, Rose.

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Education Featured

Huffman Expects More Schools In State’s Achievement District

The state expects to add 10 or 12 schools next year to its specialized district aimed at helping schools that have fallen behind academically, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said during his department’s state budget hearing this week.

That would bring up to 18 schools operating under the umbrella of the Achievement School District, a state entity that has the power to take over failing schools. Like the schools already in the district, many of those additional schools will be in Memphis. Ten Memphis City schools, all in the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee schools in terms of achievement, were notified this week that they will be taken over by the district, the Commercial Appeal reported Wednesday.

Huffman said schools in the Achievement district are operating with longer days, teaching until 4:30 p.m., and using data more aggressively to drive instruction. Huffman discussed the progress so far.

“I think they feel positive about the direction that they’re going, but it’s hard work,” Huffman said. “And I think everybody who works for the (achievement district) understands the very long path they have to go, because their goal is not to have these schools simply be less bad. They want these schools to be good schools where people want to send their children.”

The district was approved by the Legislature in 2010 as part of the state’s successful efforts to win Race to the Top funding for education reform.

The state won $501 million in that contest sponsored by the Obama administration, and Haslam asked Huffman if education officials are planning for what happens after that money is spent. The deadline is in about 18 months, Huffman said.

“We know that we will have to figure out, there will be some ongoing costs that we’ll need to absorb and make room for those costs because it’s the right thing to do,” Huffman said of planning at the state level. Local districts will have to decide whether to continue funding positions like math coaches created under the Race to the Top initiatives.

“When the money runs out they either need to figure out that this is an ongoing priority that’s worth the investment and therefore they need to spend the money on it and not spend someplace else, or they need to transition out of it,” Huffman said.

Huffman has proposed a 2 percent increase in the state share of his department’s funding, from $4.1 billion in the current year to $4.2 billion in 2013-14, the Tennessean reported.

One of the factors driving that increase is a projected $45 million bump to spending for local schools, Huffman said, based on the state law that proscribes state funding for local schools based on inflation and enrollment.

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Higher Graduation Rates High on Casada’s Priorty List

Tuesday’s statehouse general election results assure that GOP-driven education reform will remain a primary topic of policy discussion in the 2013 Legislature, said a key House Republican leader.

“We’ve got to address education,” said Rep. Glen Casada, who currently chairs the House Health and Human Resources Committee and is a likely successor to the role of GOP caucus chair for Debra Young Maggart of Henderson, who in August was ousted in the Republican primary.

“We’re near the bottom, and we have been near the bottom for years. Now the mantle of leadership is on the Republicans we have to get us out of that negative trend,” said Casada.

Casada, a conservative Republican from Franklin, told TNReport he wants to see a 90 percent graduation rate from Tennessee high schools.

Although it’s been climbing over the past decade, Tennessee’s graduation rate stands at 77.4 percent.

Education is bound to be a front-and-center issue at the legislature in the session that begins in January.

Indeed, how best to educate students has been a constant subject of debate for years now, culminating recently in a feud between Metro Nashville Public Schools officials and state leaders.

One issue almost sure to arise in 2013: The possible creation of a statewide agency to authorize charter schools, taking away that power from local school boards.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@TNReport.com on Twitter at @trentseibert and at 615-669-9501.