State Auditor Shad White may be correct with his premise that Mississippi’s public schools spend too much on administration compared to what they spend on classroom instruction.
The study he released last week, however, to support his contention is flawed.
First, it lumps all the dollars school districts receive — local, state and federal — into one pile of money as if the school districts have total control over how every part of that pile is spent. They don’t. Some of those appropriations — particularly the federal dollars — have strict guidelines on how the money is used. If the feds say the money has to be spent for an administrative function, that’s where it has to be spent, or the school district risks having to pay it back when auditors catch the diversion.
Worse, White’s study fails to take inflation into account. By not factoring in inflation, the state auditor provides cover to the claim peddled by the Republican leadership, to which he belongs, that education spending is up significantly during the time since the GOP seized control of state government.
White said that he didn’t include inflation in his comparisons because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ calculation, based on the average price of goods and services for urban consumers, does not translate well to a rural state such as Mississippi.
Although it may be uncertain whether inflation runs higher in urban areas than rural areas, it runs everywhere. The cost of goods and services does not stay stagnant, no matter how urbanized a state might be.
For the time period at which White looked, 2007 to 2017, he found that total spending on K-12 education in Mississippi had increased 12.89 percent, with administration spending growing faster than that (17.67 percent) and classroom spending slower (10.67 percent.)
The Consumer Price Index, however, showed inflation running at around 18 percent for the decade in question. Unless White can show that Mississippi’s inflation rate was significantly less than the average for all urban consumers, the takeaway on K-12 spending is this: After adjusting for inflation, less, not more, was spent in 2017 on education in real dollars than was the case in 2007.
White, a Rhodes Scholar, is better educated than the average public official. He knows inflation is a core factor in any economic analysis done over time. For him to ignore it is intellectually dishonest and severely compromises the validity of his research.