Rest assured, Senator, we know where our teachers are

General Assembly members are inventing increasingly desperate stories to avoid facing the basic facts of the state’s ongoing class-size chaos. Rather than acknowledging the fact that next year’s class-size requirements remain a $300-million-plus-untold-capital-costs unfunded mandate, and that districts continue to spend all of their classroom teacher money on teachers, General Assembly members are pretending the mandate is fully funded, and sending out inaccuracy-filled emails to constituents.

The newest class size fable comes courtesy of Senator Joyce Krawiec (pictured at left), who is claiming in an email passed to me by one of her constituents that North Carolina is “missing” 600 teachers – which would be big, if true.

This is from Krawiec’s email:

“So what’s the big deal with the Senate?  Why all this confusion?  The General Assembly believes reducing class size in K-3 will increase positive outcomes for our young people.  We have dedicated approximately $70 million of your tax dollars annually for this goal.  Any good steward of other people’s money should be expected to ask, ‘How it was spent?’

How many K-3 teachers should $70 million buy?   The average state cost of a classroom teacher, including benefits, is about $63,000, (salary x 1.26).  That works out to approximately 1,100 new K-3 teachers for our children.  Simple enough.

What does DPI report in their Highlights of the NC Public School Budget? (Summary attached)  Before additional funding began in 2013 there were 26,158 allotted K-3 teachers.  This year 2017-18 DPI reports funding 26,671.5 positions.  A net change of 513.5 new K-3 teachers and this includes any funded through growth in ADM (Average Dailey Membership).   Our children are missing about 600 K-3 teachers for which you payed.   That is a problem.”

Krawiec is confused along multiple fronts. But the main issue is that Krawiec is comparing the change in allotted teaching positions since FY 2012-13, while comparing the change in teacher dollars since FY 2013-14. This mistake apparently has her convinced that 600 teachers have gone missing.

Krawiec’s email compares the number of teachers allotted on the basis of students in grades K-3 in FY 2012-13 against the number of teachers allotted on the basis of students in grades K-3 in FY 2016-17 (despite what the email says, the 26,671.5 figure comes from FY 2016-17). Here’s how the allotment ratios have changed over those years:

As you can see, the only difference between the allotment ratios in FY 2012-13 and FY 2016-17 is that the grade 1 allotment ratio was reduced by one student. In the current year, that one-student reduction to the grade 1 allotment ratio is providing districts with 441 additional teaching positions:

This work can be double-checked against the figures in the 2015 budget when – under slightly different numbers for grade 1 enrollment and average teacher salaries – reducing the grade 1 allotment ratio from 17 students to 16 students was calculated to cost $27 million.

To summarize, the cost of moving from the FY 2012-13 teacher allotment ratios to the FY 2017-18 allotment ratios is $28 million. Krawiec is under the mistaken notion that this change in the grade 1 allotment ratio costs $70 million per year. Therefore, Krawiec is desperately searching for 1,100 teaching positions, rather than the 441 additional positions actually provided via the lowering of the grade 1 allotment ratio.

In other words, mystery solved. All of our teachers are safe and accounted for.

The mystery of how Krawiec landed on the $70 million figure can also be solved. It’s a bit confusing because the number is wrong in two unique ways.

First, she is comparing the change in money from FY 2013-14 against FY 2016-17 (note that when it came to the number of positions, her email compared FY 2012-13 against FY 2016-17). This disconnect on the years of comparison is why Krawiec is so confused.

Second, she is adding the additional classroom teacher appropriation provided via the 2014 budget ($42 million) with the additional classroom teacher appropriation provided in the 2015 budget ($27 million). As noted yesterday, one must also look at the 2013 budget to get a complete picture of the additional classroom teacher funding provided between FY 2013-14 and FY 2017-18.

In other words, the state isn’t spending $70 million per year to bring down the FY 2013-14 allotment ratios to their current levels – it is spending nearly $127 million per year. Of course, the state would need to increase districts’ operating budgets by an additional $304 million in order to fully-fund the non-capital costs of next year’s class-size requirements.

It is inexcusable that General Assembly members continue to get the basic facts of this class-size issue so incredibly wrong. General Assembly members have access to the impressive analytical skills of the Fiscal Research Division staff, who are there to help General Assembly members understand the basic facts of often complex policy issues. It displays incredible hubris for members to send out error-filled emails or make inaccurate statements to the press without first checking with staff to make sure they have their facts straight.

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