No Matter How You Slice It, RI a Leader in Education Compensation
With the stories about teacher’s buying their own supplies and student athletes having to pay participation fees in North Smithfield, I wondered: Why? Recent Census Bureau data showed Rhode Island’s cost per student was #8 overall in the U.S. Where is that money going? Well, as I discovered, 85% of that cost went to compensation (salaries and benefits) for adult employees in the school system (from bus drivers to teachers to superintendents).
The below chart shows the overall cost/student rankings (left-most column) and compares it to the data for the amount of compensation that went towards adults for each student (the center column). There wasn’t much difference in the rankings, with Rhode Island comfortably in the top 10 measured each way.
But using real dollars doesn’t take into account that costs are more expensive across the board here in the Northeast. As you can see, Northeastern states dominate the top 2 quintiles when real dollars are used as a measure. So I decided to try to account for the regional disparities and evaluate the rankings by using the percentage that employee compensation comprises of the overall cost/student rather than using dollar figures (the right-most column, below). The results show a wide variation as compared to just using raw dollar amounts.
The total cost per student and compensation cost essentially line up. But the latter as a percentage of total cost (rather than as a dollar figure) reveals a more diverse result. To clarify, here is the same data resorted by % of cost that goes towards compensation.
This confirms to me that using a percentage versus actual dollar figures is more illustrative when it comes to evaluating actual education costs. It shows that low-spending states like Utah or Kentucky put a high percentage of that money towards compensation for employees. (It’s up to you if you think that is good or bad). On the flip side, Washington, D.C., which is a top overall spender nonetheless spends more non-compensation related money on their kids than anyone else. To lesser degree, the same could be said of Alaska. Then there are states like Oklahoma and South Dakota that don’t spend a lot and don’t spend as much on employee compensation.
Regardless, as you can see, only Rhode Island is in the top quintile (ie; most expensive) when measuring either real dollars or the percentage spent on compensation. So, no matter how you slice it, Rhode Island is a top spender when it comes to compensating our education industry workers.