Dan Patrick framed his case for ordering Texas schools to shift money toward higher teacher salaries by suggesting that less than a third of school spending currently reaches teacher pocketbooks.
The Republican lieutenant governor, addressing reporters before the July 2017 start of a special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, said: "Of all the money we spend on education, less than 32 percent goes to teachers."
By email, Patrick spokesman Alejandro Garcia offered as the basis of Patrick’s claim a state publication presenting statistics such as student enrollment. We did not spot information in the document speaking to what Patrick said.
Texas Education Agency figures
But when we reached out to the Texas Education Agency, spokeswoman Lauren Callahan responded by pointing out state-posted figures for the 2015-16 school year, the latest year of audited spending totals.
That year, according to the agency, state government recorded receipts of $58,796,907,294 related to public schools from state, local, federal and other revenue sources. The same year, according to another agency web page, 347,328 teachers were paid combined base salaries of $18,023,516,741, averaging $51,892.
That $18 billion breaks out to 31 percent of the nearly $59 billion in total receipts.
Some more money went to teachers, though, in nearly $1 million in stipends such as what’s paid to teachers that oversee extracurricular activities, Callahan told us. The resulting total teacher compensation, $19,005,561,634, divides out to 32 percent of the total education receipts.
Additional money goes into other salaries. According to the agency, Texas schools in 2015-16 paid more than $24 billion to 68,699 teacher support staff — broken out by TEA into more than 20 job categories including counselors, school nurses and athletic trainers — plus 237,460 administrative, professional, paraprofessional and auxiliary staff — with spending on all employee salaries accounting for more than 70 percent of school-related receipts.
Keep in mind, though, Patrick singled out the share of all spending solely devoted to teacher pay.
School district advocates
When we asked finance experts who advocate for school districts if the equation based on TEA data holds up, we heard back that the math works, but the total-spending figure folds in spending deserving of an asterisk.
In emails, Joe Wisnoski, a former TEA finance administrator who advises and lobbies for school districts, and Tom Canby of the Texas Association of School Business Officials each suggested it’s unfair to compare the $18 billion spent on teacher salaries to total receipts, which count money that doesn’t play into school employee salaries, each expert wrote.
Wisnoski suggested it’s more appropriate to compare spending on teacher salaries to operating expenditures, which means not judging the teacher salaries against any money districts raise in bond proceeds or what’s spent on capital projects such as buildings or to pay off debt. Wisnoski noted that none of those funding streams would be available to could be diverted to salaries anyway.
According to the TEA’s posted figures for 2015-16, 2015-16 "all funds" operating expenditures for schools totaled nearly $49.5 billion --of which the spending on teacher salaries accounted for 36.4 percent, Wisnoski said and we confirmed.
"There are lots of ways to include or exclude things in the world of school district finances," Wisnoski said, "and what is most appropriate somewhat depends on the person making the point and the specific point being made."
Canby called the equation that got us to 32 percent of all spending going to teacher salaries a misleading "apples divided by oranges calculation." He said he would gauge the share of spending on teacher salaries, starting from 2016 actual expenditure totals he said he fetched from the state’s Public Education Information Management System. Those figures suggest that teacher salaries cost $19,131,375,774 with benefits adding $3,429,356,293. The resulting $22,560,732,067 accounted for 47.7 percent of $47,303,105,584 in operating expenditures statewide, Canby noted.
Canby also emailed us a web link to a July 2017 commentary by TASBO’s executive director, Tracy Ginsburg, stating that the group had been unable to verify numbers aired by Patrick indicating that of $163,000 spent per classroom, $52,000 is paid to classroom teachers.
Ginsburg encouraged readers to consider a June 2017 report by Moak, Casey & Associates, the lobbying and consulting firm whose associates include Wisnoski. That report says that in 2015-16, Texas school employee salaries and benefits absorbed 79 percent of $46.4 billion spent on "basic educational costs."
The share of that spending on teacher salaries alone doesn’t appear in the report, which states that "instruction" accounted for 61 percent of basic costs, taking into account some 333,000 teachers plus 63,700 education aides. The "instruction" entry in the report says: "Also included here are the salaries and benefits costs of 4,500 librarians as well as the books and other materials that can be found in Texas school libraries. The cost of instructional materials and staff development are also included in this category as instructional costs."
Patrick said: "Of all the money we spend on education, less than 32 percent goes to teachers."
This percentage, we found, aligns with the simple comparison of total teacher salaries to all funds spent on public schools. But it’s worth clarifying that not all funds can be diverted to teacher salaries. You could also say that close to half of available school spending in 2015-16 went to teacher salaries.
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