Teacher loss

The state can’t expect to maintain the quality of its public schools when it funds fewer teachers to serve more students.

Statistics released last week by the Kansas State Department of Education offer a clear picture of at least one effect of recent state funding cuts for public schools.

While the number of students enrolled in Kansas schools rose by 9,701 this year, the total of all certified personnel working with those students declined by 277. Of those, 256 were classroom teachers.

Some state legislators have argued in recent years that public schools operate with bloated administrations that need to be trimmed. That certainly has occurred. Between the 2010-11 school year and the 2011-12 school year, the state lost two school superintendents, 11 associate or assistant superintendents, 28 principals and 15 assistant principals. Since the 2008-09 school year, the state has lost a total of 112 people in those four employment categories.

If state legislators wanted leaner, meaner administrative staffs at public schools, they’ve accomplished that goal.

How about for classroom teachers? The number of special education teachers dropped in the last two years, but rebounded this year to about the same level as in 2008-09. A modest increase also was reported in the number of vocational education teachers. However, in the last year, Kansas schools lost about 420 teachers in other areas.

How can Kansas schools preserve the quality of instruction they offer students with so many fewer teachers in the classrooms? Research has repeatedly documented the positive effect that smaller class size has on educational achievement. There is no doubt that the classroom teachers who have direct contact with students on a day-to-day basis are a critical part of individual students’ academic success.

Funding for public schools is a matter of priorities. There is no higher priority than recruiting and retaining high quality teachers and giving them classes that are small enough to manage and teach effectively. In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780. Districts have cut the fat in their budgets and then some. It’s time to correct this dangerous trend.