More funding for education? Depends on your perspective – Guest Editorial (What are your thoughts?)

Twelve statewide education organizations have joined together to promote a perceived need for more
money for education from taxpayers. Taxpayers need and deserve clear, accurate information about
school spending in order to support more funding. Maybe the best way to start is with some historical

By VERDELL JACKSON for the Missoulian

The facts presented below are extracted from information requested from the Legislative Services
Division. The data is from the Office of Public Instruction and the Statistical Abstract of the U.S.

1. The 2001 state general fund was distributed this way: K-12 schools (47 percent), university system
(12 percent), corrections (9 percent), human services (22 percent) and all other (10 percent).
Education makes up 59 percent of the total.

2. Montana’s statewide total (state, local and federal) spending for K-12 schools from 1994-2001
increased from $850 million to $1.058 billion per year. This increase of over $208 million during this
period is an average increase of about $30 million each year. Between the years 2000 and 2001, the
increase was $54.5 million or 5.43 percent. The total spending increase from 1994 to 2001, compared
with the Consumer Price Index inflation rate of 2.5 percent per year, exceeded inflation by $44 million
by 2001.

3. Student enrollment peaked in 1996 at 165,547 students and has declined to 154,869 for 2001 for a
net loss of 10,678 students. Between 2000 and 2001, the loss was 2,687. The number of teachers in
1996 was 10,079 and increased to 10,411 in 2001, an increase of 392. The increase between 2000
and 2001 was 58 teachers. Total school professional staff (teachers, administrators, counselors,
librarians, etc.) was 11,705 in 1996 and increased to 12,097 in 2001.

4. Because 10,678 fewer students attend the K-12 system since 1996, spending per student has
increased much faster than total spending. In 1994, $5,216 was spent for each student. In 2001, that
figure was $6,835, for an average increase of $231 per student each year. Between 2000 and 2001,
the increase was $453 per student or 7.27 percent.

5. Montana ranks ninth from the top when compared to 15 Western states for the highest total
spending per student per year for 2001. Montana placed third behind Alaska and Wyoming when
relative ability to pay was considered by dividing average income per worker by average spending per
student. Montana’s score of 33.6 percent means that it takes an average Montanan’s income to pay
for the cost of educating three students for one year.

6. States with higher average class sizes pay higher wages to teachers. A 1999 comparison was
made between average class size and average teacher pay in the 15 Western states. Montana
ranked fourth from the bottom in teacher pay and sixth from the bottom in class size (15.4 students
per class). There is a correlation between average class size and teacher pay.

The Legislature will likely continue to provide modest increases each year in educational funding.
Human services and safety are also high priorities. As a state we are committed to provide safety to
our citizens and food, shelter and health care to the needy. The state constitution gives the job of
balancing these competing needs to the Legislature, not to special interest groups or to the court
system. The educational establishment has the responsibility to work toward administrative efficiency
to get the most out of each tax dollar.

Verdell Jackson is a Republican state representative from Kalispell. [email protected]

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