The Alabama State Department of Education uses an accounting system where all expenditures are placed into one of nine categories:
- Instructional services – Instructional activities dealing directly with the interaction between teachers and students. Teaching may be provided for pupils in a school classroom, in another location such as a home or hospital and in other learning situations such as those involving co-curricular activities (Co-curricular includes such activities as field trips, athletics, band and school clubs.)
- Instructional support – Those services or activities providing supervision and/or technical and logistical support to facilitate and enhance instruction. Such services will include student support, instructional staff support, educational media and local school administration.
- Operations and maintenance – Activities concerned with keeping the physical plant open, comfortable and safe for use and keeping the grounds, building and equipment in effective working condition and good state of repair.
- Transportation – (In budget documents, Transportation and Food Services are lumped together as “Auxiliary Services”. In the annual report cards, they are broken apart.) Expenses having to do with transporting students.
- Food services – Expenditures concerned with administering the Child Nutrition Program.
- General administrative – Activities concerned with establishing and administering policy for operating the school system.
- Debt service – Activities involved in servicing the long term debt(s) of the school system. These include payments of principal and interest on bond and warrant obligations, payments of principal and interest on lease-purchase agreements and payments of other related debt service charges incurred such as handling charges from lending institutions.
- Capital outlay – Activities concerned with acquiring land and buildings, land and building improvements, building additions, and construction and architecture and engineering services.
- Other – Activities involving the operations of programs other than those normally considered “day school”. These include activities dealing with Adult/Continuing education programs, nonpublic school programs and services, and community services.
Whether those categories completely describe the purpose of the expenditure is up for debate, but it is currently the only lens that we have through which to view spending in public schools.
There are innovative ways that better identify how money is spent in public education that just haven’t taken hold here in Alabama, but maybe we’ll get there one day.
What the Numbers Show
Looking at statewide average spending per enrolled student by category, in (1) actual (nominal) dollars, (2) as a proportion of total expenditures, and finally, (3) in real dollars deflated using 2009 as the base. For more on the methodology of deflating to allow for better comparisons, read this.
If the infographic below isn’t responsive, click this link to view directly on the web.
So What Does This Tell Us?
It tells us a few things. All of the statements below are based on real dollars, using 2009 as the base:
Expenditures on instructional services only (not including instructional support) have steadily declined since FY08, after five years of increases beginning in FY04.
Expenditures on instructional services only (not including instructional support), increased in FY13, though by a very small amount ($32 per enrolled student).
Expenditures for instructional services only (not including instructional support), are at $4641 per enrolled student, which is lower than any year during this time frame (FY01 through FY13).
Expenditures for instructional support only have experienced a similar increase and decrease, though FY13 expenditures are near FY06 levels: FY13 per enrolled student was $1352; in FY06, that amount was $1384.
Expenditures for Operations and Maintenance, along with Transportation, while affected by the same decline as other categories, have continued to climb and are hovering at FY06 and FY07 levels, respectively.
There has been significant variance in spending on capital outlay and debt service during this time period.
So What Does This Mean?
It means that Alabama is spending less per student for teachers and other instruction-related services than we have during the past thirteen years.
It means the money we are spending more (as a proportion) for non-instruction-related expenses, i.e., taking care of buildings and bankers and debt, is not only more than we have in the past thirteen years (on average), but that those amounts are varying widely from year to year. Which brings up questions about infrastructure and age of buildings and investments in technology and other capital expenditures.
Why Bother Learning This? It’s So Complicated.
It’s really not that complicated. Keep reading. Keep asking questions. Keep digging in.
Nearly $8 BILLION of our tax money is spent on public education.
Our 135 school boards will approve school budgets in September this year.
We need to understand how our money is being spent in order to ask the right questions of our school boards at our budget hearings.
Cause I know you’re ALL making plans to attend your local school budget hearing, right??
Any questions? Ask them here!