Virginia, education spending, and budgets

During the great transportation-tax-love-in last month, a slew of Republican delegates and senators lamented that there was “nowhere to cut” in the Virginia budget. I can still hear Dave Albo running through the list of uncuttables.

One item he simply glossed over was “education” – as if it were impossible to find any efficiencies there. Now, I understand that education is the holiest of holies when it comes to state funding (and local funding, too; even I avoided it when I was proposing alternatives to property tax increases in Spotsylvania), but a new dataset compiled by AEI’s Mark Perry inspired a rethink.

Perry was comparing teachers to non-teacher-staff numbers for the fifty states, and what he found for Virginia was astonishing:

Virginia public schools led the nation in “educrat bloat,” with 130,100 non-teaching staff compared to only 70,947 teachers. That means that there were 183.4 public school administrators and non-teaching staff for every 100 teachers, or a ratio of almost two administrators and non-teaching personnel for every one teacher!


Of course, Virginia (like most states) reroutes quite a bit of taxpayer money to localities for education: over $6.6 billion a year (VA Department of Planning and Budget). Had the Commonwealth followed the national ratio on staffer-to-teacher (roughly 1:1), it could have saved quite a bit of money.

How much? Well, in order to figure that out, first you need to know how much Richmond spends per staffer. Since the data Perry compiled was from 2010, I went with the 2010 General Fund – Direct Aid to Localities for Education figure ($4.77B)…

Funding  $        4,769,832,540
Teachers                           70,947
Non-Teachers                         130,100
Total Staffers                         201,047
“Wrap Rate”  $                 23,724.96

For the uninitiated, “wrap rate” refers to all of the expenses tied to a person (wages, benefits, desk space, equipment, etc.). I mention this in order to explain why I didn’t decide to attempt to tease out capital costs spent by the recipients of the aid; for the most part, buildings and offices needed are driven by the number people on staff. Of course, the rate clearly shows that the state is not the only level of government paying for these people, which becomes important later.

So, what would the state have spent in 2010 if the ratio were 1:1, rather than 1.83:1? Something like this…

Total Staff 1:1                         141,894
Cost, 1:1  $        3,366,429,832
Savings  $        1,403,402,708
Savings % 29%

So the Commonwealth would have spent over $1.4B less on local school budgets had the non-teacher overage been addressed.

Assuming the ratios still hold today, that would translate to $1.569B in annual savings – over 20% more than the annual tax increase that was supposedly needed for roads.

Now, one could argue (and even if one didn’t, I already assumed one did) that simply cutting the state aid to local schools by $1.569B and asking the localities to cut back on non-teachers would go over like a lead balloon in courthouses and city council buildings. However, this is where the low “wrap rate” becomes relevant. Clearly, the state isn’t covering all of these staffers’ expenses; localities are partially on the hook, too. So local taxpayers would still save money if their school system pared down its non-teacher staffers.

Still, I figured I should at least bend the ear of my friend Shaun Kenney (currently in his fourth year on the Fluvanna County Board of Supervisors). This is what he had to say…

Solution: whack the mandates that force localities to hire these bureaucrats.

The vast majority of this is coming down from Richmond.  Many localities would LOVE to do away with state mandated positions and the like… we just can’t.  The state comes in, forces us to hire, then retracts the state contribution because they are of the strong opinion that localities are awash in cash.
Almost half of the state mandates in Virginia directly impact education, and in many instances we have no idea what the cost or actual benefit (or negative impact) really is.
It’s ridiculous.  And no one has the guts to kill the mandates and treat localities as adults.
If that’s the opinion most localities share, this could be much easier than I thought.
More to the point, when it comes to finding alternatives to the Rube Goldberg tax-hike scheme now on the Governor’s desk (or, as I like to call it, Plan ’13 From Outer Space), please note what I have found (or projected to find) just after looking at one item – and one of the most politically sacrosanct items at that. Imagine what could be found if anyone went through the other $70-odd billion that is in the Commonwealth’s annual budget!
Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal
UPDATE: To be fair to Virginia, they’re hardly alone in this problem

2 thoughts on “Virginia, education spending, and budgets

  1. Image a business where every productive worker had 2-3 assistants. That’s what education today is. In Fairfax there are two-three administrators for every teacher, administrators that the teacher never sees and has little use for.

    In Fairfax county, the real number of teachers, those who are actually in a classroom, directly involved with students, is between 1/3 and 1/4 of the total number of employees. For each teacher in Fairfax there are 3 administrators. Ridiculous!

    Get those administrators out of the central office, and the 8 cluster offices, and get them back in the classrooms! We could half class sizes in Fairfax!

    I am so glad that someone is finally addressing this issue.

  2. If you check your home county of Spotsy, you’ll find that it spends about 70 million more for schools that the state mandates. That’s more than 1000 additional employees. It’s also about 45 cents on the tax rate.

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