I’m a product of public schools. My wife is a trained educator, and my three children attend East Texas public schools - so I have huge personal stake in ensuring that our education system is successful. Every day in classrooms across Texas, teachers tirelessly inspire and motivate their students to pursue academic excellence. Like me, you probably also know some of these teachers. There is simply no substitute for the central link between student and teacher inside the classroom. Yet in many places across Texas, bureaucrats and school administrators have lost sight of the fundamental mission of public education and where the rubber meets the road—in the classroom.
A disturbing trend has developed over the last several decades. Armies of support aides, administrators, and auxiliary staff have grown in our school districts. Over years, the natural character of this bureaucracy becomes self-preservation rather than focus on the classroom. The predictable result is that fewer and fewer dollars make their way to the classrooms where they are most needed.
Texas has more public school employees than any other state in the nation, including California, despite having 1,000 less schools and 1.6 million less students than the Golden State! Forbes Magazine has found that if Texas school districts were a single company it would be the fifth largest employer in the world, just short of the United States Postal Service.
It was not always this way. In the 1970s, for every 5 teachers employed in Texas public schools there were 2 non-teachers. Now that number is nearly 1-1. Since 2004, non-teachers have been hired at nearly 3 times the rate of in-classroom teachers. Adjusted for inflation, Texas spends nearly double per-pupil what it did a decade ago. Over the last 20 years, per-pupil costs have exploded from $3,600 to more than $11,000.
At a time of fiscal uncertainty for many Texas teachers, the average Texas school superintendent earns six figures and a majority received raises last year. More than 70 Texas school districts pay their superintendents upwards of $200,000 a year, and more than two dozen superintendents with salaries of a quarter-million dollars a year or more. The highest paid Texas superintendent earns $347,000 a year. It is easy to see how payroll accounts for fully 60% of public school expenditures. While our local superintendents do not make lavish salaries, all Texas taxpayers are on the hook for those who do. Yet when economic conditions compel lawmakers to find efficiencies all across state government, too many school administrators recommend that classroom teachers be the first to go. This is an unwise approach. Instead of putting teachers on the chopping block we should be prioritizing them.
We have to get back to basics in public education. Texas can no longer afford to spend 50 cents of every education dollar outside of the classroom. After decades of experimentation, objective observers now know that layers of bureaucracy—however well intended—do not result in better outcomes for students. We must eliminate unfunded mandates that turn teachers into government compliance officers and I have filed legislation that would help accomplish that while giving school districts greater flexibility. Results must be analyzed, every dollar scrutinized, efficiencies zealously sought, and old premises reexamined. The Legislature is operating under self-imposed 10% staff budget cuts this year. It was a small measure considering the budget challenges we face, but it was a signal that we are serious about fiscal responsibilities.
Texas has abundant resources. The problem lies in our desire to spend more than we have. Texas citizens do not conduct their household budgets that way. Neither should Texas. For example, even a modest reduction in non-teachers to a 3-2 ratio with in-classroom teachers would net a $3 billion savings. Were non-teaching staff reduced only to 2004-05 levels, Texas would save $1.5 billion. That would allow school districts to save many teachers' jobs.
It is important that everyone understand lawmakers in Austin do not cut teachers' jobs. School boards, superintendents, and principals make the final decisions on how education dollars are spent in their district. I strongly encourage those decision makers to focus their belt-tightening on non-teachers in order to preserve our classroom teachers.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives. Please contact me with your thoughts at 512-463-0650 or at Erwin.Cain@house.state.tx.us.
Attorney and businessman Erwin Cain represents the 3rd District in the Texas House of Representatives. He serves on the Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform, the Committee on Corrections, and was elected by fellow members to serve on the Republican Policy Study Committee.