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How Do You Measure Equal Funding for Schools?

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There are three legs to the public education-funding stool: facilities, teachers, and administrative support. The issue of unequal funding is most often heard from the charter schools, whose students and teachers generally receive significantly less financial support than district public schools.

The charter stool system has only one leg!

The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Census both collect data on how operational funding is broken down. On average, for FY 2009-10, 40 percent of funds go to direct instructional salaries (i.e., teachers); 16 percent go for employee benefits; and nearly 50 percent goes for school, district- and state-level administrative and programmatic support.

From these data it is possible to calculate the percentages of each category. As the data are presented for each state, we can compare the national averages with Hawai'i.

Category National Hawai'i
Total Per Pupil for 2009-2010 $10,314 (100% $11,754 (100%)
Per Pupil All Salary & Wages (%) $6,316 (61%) $6,497 (55%)
Per Pupil All Employee Benefits (%) $2,202 (21%) $2,627 (22%)
Total Per Pupil Instruction & Related (%) $6,818 (66%) $7,807 (66%)
Per Pupil Instruction Salary & Wages (%) $4,588 (44%) $4,750 (40%)
Per pupil Employee benefits (%) $1,570 (15%) $1,896 (16%)
Per pupil all support services (%) $3,078 (30%) $3,400 (29%)
Support services salaries and wages (%) $1,535 (15%) $1,443 (12%)
Support salaries and benefits (%) $560 (5%) $619 (5%)

Percentages of expenditures for all categories are similar for national averages and Hawai'i. Sources for Hawai'i are the annual financial reports, which can be found here.

Why are these data relevant? In order to operate all Hawai'i public schools (HIDOE and charter), 55 percent of expenditures were devoted to salary and wages, 66 percent to instruction, and 29 percent to other support services. We can also see that of the overall category of instruction related expenses for Hawai'i ($7,807), salaries for teachers ($4,750) would represent just 40 percent of the total public expenditures, and 61 percent of the instructional expenditures. Benefits, which are not paid by charters, represented 16 percent. That same-year charters received $6,036 per pupil. The average amount for all teacher salaries calculated as a per pupil amount of $4,770 thus represented approximately 79 percent of the charter allocation.

Right off the bat we have two measures of equity: the percent of funding required to pay teachers, and the percent of funding above that to provide administrative support.

In Hawai'i, it is easier to determine equity as the State has only one statewide public school district and department. There are no property taxes going into education. The State Legislature, along with 15 percent added from federal funds, appropriates all the funds.

The first thing you notice is that the overall per-pupil financial support for all public schools is about $11,500, while the charter school per pupil allocation is about $6,100. Because of our collective bargaining laws, a teacher in a department school will receive the same pay as a teacher in a charter school. It is a fixed cost of providing education. Thus, we can easily compare the percentage of financial support needed, on average, for department teachers to the percent needed for charters.

In 2010, one charter school needed to use eighty percent of its allocation just to pay teacher salaries. The other twenty percent was for administrative support at the school. One hundred percent of the per-pupil operational funds was needed just for salaries, and none was left for facilities, for computers, for lunches, for all the myriad things needed to run a school.

In the same year public department schools enjoyed millions of dollars of additional administrative support at the school, district and state level. There were an average of eight staff for every department school at district and state levels. There were an average of 32 support staff in the school office.

In 2012, the Hawaii Educational Policy center reviewed the Department of Education's official directory, and counted all full-time positions. At the State level, Hawaii employs more than 800 full-time support workers. At the district level, more than 2,000 full-time workers provide support, and at the department schools more than 8,000. For the whole system, there was one departmental support staff for every 86 students. In the charter system, there was one staff for 1,100 students.

As for facilities, forget about it. Charter children are not considered equals of department children. This is a national problem. Much rhetorical support and funding can be found to create so-called 21st century school learning environments -- but not for the 10,000 charter students and their families. The State tolerates charter students learning in make-shift tents next to a noisy airport, or converted shipping containers. A new high school will cost $150 million for the department -- a new charter school one tenth of that amount.

In the Supreme Court's Brown v. The Board of Education landmark decision against separate but equal schools, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote of education in general: "Where a State has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such an opportunity is a right, which must be made available to all on equal terms."