Schools do More than Educate
Children are at school five days each week, approximately six hours each day. This means there are many costs involved pertaining to each child that goes beyond actual educational needs. Whenever a politician or social group deems something worthy for children, they often propose that it be added to the "to do" list of items that the public schools provide. When legislators want to add programs that public schools are responsible to have they pass laws, or what are known as mandates.
Mandates are often good programs for children such as anti-bullying education and even bicycle safety. But just like laws, mandates continue to pile up with few ever being repealed. The costs for most of these programs fall directly on the school and they begin to add up over time. Everything from drug and alcohol programs to after-school study groups and even vision and dental screenings are now mandated by many public schools. Schools are now expected to do so much above and beyond education that it's no wonder that there never seems to be an end to the amount of money that is needed.
Insurance Costs are Rising
Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers do make a livable wage. In some districts teacher's salaries are even above average. This is obviously a big part of any school's annual budget. Of course teaching is an extremely hard job and teachers deserve to be paid a livable wage, but it does mean that budgets are going to increase on a fairly regular basis to keep up with the cost of living. Even more than salaries, however, insurance costs have risen dramatically in recent years. Anyone who has paid attention to the healthcare debate knows these costs are rising at an astronomical rate.
Education Next discusses some of the ways schools have tried to handle rising insurance premiums for teachers. Some school districts are trying to come up with innovative ways to lower costs, but there doesn't seem to be a magic bullet to bring these costs down. Some schools are forced with difficult funding decisions in order to maintain the amount of insurance that has been promised in the teachers' contract. Some may cut classroom budgets while other districts may even lay off some teachers. If a district decides not to cut corners while still maintaining the same level of insurance, it will almost certainly cause the budget to increase. As healthcare costs rise each year, so do school budgets.
Buildings Need Upkeep
There are thousands of school buildings across the country, and many are in dire need of major repairs. Many large public schools have dozens of school buildings in their district. To keep these buildings running efficiently there aren't just structural repairs to maintain, but electrical and HVAC work that needs to be done. There are also gymnasiums, parking lots, and athletic fields to consider as well. Even if the buildings are generally in good condition it takes quite a bit of money to keep up with minor repairs and regular cleaning.
According to Education Week, the majority of Schools in the United States need replacements or upgrades to the infrastructure. The need to keep school buildings in good shape is not just related to space or how good they look. Not keeping buildings in working condition can also present health problems for both students and teachers. Drafty, leaky buildings can contribute to students becoming ill more often. Other indoor air problems, such as those associated with mold growth, may even cause serious illness if not quickly taken care of. Proper maintenance of buildings and eventually the need to build new structures can be extremely expensive.
Bureaucracies are Always Growing
It's no secret that many school districts have a top heavy bureaucracy that can quickly drive a school budget through the roof. This may, at least in some part, be related to the ever growing list of mandates that have been put on the schools. When more programs are required, there needs to be administrators to oversee them. Schools are also beholden to the state for improving test scores. This means schools may hire coaches and other administrators to work with both teachers and students to raise test scores.
Gone are the days when the average school had a principal, a school secretary, and a single guidance counselor. Nearly every other professional in the building was a teacher. Many schools now have a principal, several vice principals, and several guidance counselors. Part of the problem is that school discipline has gotten more difficult in recent years and it takes several administrators to work with troubled students. An increase in administrators, however, dramatically increases the budget due to salary and insurance costs.
Training is Expensive
No matter what field an individual is in, ongoing learning and training is almost always required. Teachers are required in most states to continually update their license and complete ongoing education courses. While much of this is at the teacher's own personal expense, the schools also provide in-services and workshops throughout the year for their staff.
Even if a school district only provides training a few times each year, the costs can quickly add up. If the training is off-site, there are transportation costs as well as the expense of the actual training. There is the cost of materials, whether it includes books or online training and software expenses. Whether training is on-site or off, substitute teachers are usually needed to be brought in to cover classes while the regular teachers are out. Schools that provide ongoing education only a few times each year may see a significant increase in their annual budgets.
Providing transportation to and from school for thousands of students does not come cheap. Buying and maintaining hundreds of buses for elementary, middle, and high school students can take up an enormous chunk of the budget, especially for larger districts. When gas prices rise, this can cause a strain on already tight budgets.
There is also the cost of training and paying drivers to include as well as insurance costs. While some districts are now starting to charge parents for riding the bus, this isn't without a lot of controversy. Some opponents to this have argued that forcing parents to pay is unconstitutional. While arguments are being made regarding this issue, many schools are still bearing the burden of increased transportation costs.
Mandates, insurance, training, transportation, and building upkeep are some of the major costs that schools are struggling to keep under control. While what exactly is included in a school budget will vary among districts, there's no doubt that budgets always seem to be increasing.