Research & Commentary: Kentucky Schools’ Administrative Bloat

Published November 25, 2014

The number of administrative staff in Kentucky schools grew by 43 percent between 1992 and 2009, despite just a 4 percent increase in students. If administrator numbers had grown at the same rate as the student population, Kentucky would have saved $628,028,096 per year in annual recurring expenses. This is the equivalent of a $14,454 annual salary increase for every Kentucky public school teacher, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Kentucky ranks fifth in the nation in administrative bloat, employing 13,315 more administrators than teachers. This is more than twice the amount of the next-most-bloated state, Mississippi. Most states employ fewer administrators than teachers.

Some education officials say the “non-teacher” classification is too broad and includes employees who still actively engage students and promote academic and nonacademic well-being, but the significant rise in nonteaching personnel is undeniable.

Many top-scoring East Asian countries attribute their success to making sure their teachers are top quality. Other countries, such as Brazil, Columbia, and Poland, have dramatically improved their rankings in recent years by raising teacher standards and providing more incentives for high-achieving students to become teachers.

Given the high cost and poor results of our education system, officials at all levels should reconsider whether expenditures on nonteaching staff are the best use of taxpayer funds.

Lawmakers should consider redirecting education funds toward attracting and incentivizing quality teachers through merit pay, implementing innovative digital learning programs, and giving parents education savings accounts. Lawmakers should also remove barriers that prevent school districts from sharing or consolidating their resources, which could save significant sums of money, especially for small school districts located close together.

The following documents provide additional information on nonteaching staff and student achievement.


Ten Ways to Cut Costs in New York Public Schools without Hurting the Classroom
This May 2011 document by the Alliance for Quality Education recommends several ways New York public schools can cut costs without reducing classroom resources, most of which require some change in state law. These recommendations are also applicable elsewhere and are especially important for cash-strapped states. In such cases, failure to implement these reforms could lead to eventual cuts that do permanent and lasting damage to education. 

New York Bill S1509
A bill introduced during New York’s 2013 legislative session would amend state education law to cap school district administrative costs at three percent of the school district’s total budget. This legislation is intended to redirect funds to endeavors that more directly benefit classroom learning.

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools
In this October 2012 study for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Georgia College & State University economics professor Ben Scafidi found an increasing amount of U.S. tax dollars were spent on nonteaching staff in public schools between 1992 and 2008, but student achievement did not improve. Scafidi notes the United States is alone among wealthy nations in committing higher percentages of education dollars to nonteaching staff, and the spending involves serious opportunity costs. 

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools, Part II
In a follow-up to his 2012 paper for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, economics professor Ben Scafidi identifies the 21 most “top heavy” states, those that employed more non-teachers than teachers in FY 2012. By far, the problem was most acute in Virginia, which employed 60,737 more non-teachers than teachers. 

The Hidden Half: School Employees Who Don’t Teach
Matt Richmond, a research analyst at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, notes American public schools spend more of their operating budgets on non-teaching staff than every other country in the world, excluding only Denmark. Richmond doesn’t evaluate the issue, but he says it is a topic worth examining further, especially during a time when state and local governments have tightening budgets. 

Study Finds Oregon Schools Top Heavy With Non-Teacher Staff
A local TV station in Medford, Oregon covers the Friedman Foundation report and interviews two Oregon education officials, one state and one district. The officials defend the non-teacher employee surge by claiming that although they’re in nonteaching and non-credentialed positions, the employees are actively involved in the children’s learning progress and are therefore worth the expense. 

School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?
This September 2014 paper published by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution examines whether quantitative research can demonstrate school superintendents have an impact on student achievement. Although the authors conclude superintendents may affect a district’s financial health, parent and student satisfaction, and how efficiently tax dollars are spent, there is no quantitative research definitively establishing they have any impact on student learning. 

Research & Commentary: Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality
Heartland Institute Research Fellow Joy Pullmann notes student-teacher ratios have fallen along with teacher quality in the United States. Unchallenging coursework, dubious teacher preparation requirements, and the restrictive approach to advancement in education deter many high-quality people from the teaching profession and draw in less-talented individuals. 

Shanghai Teens Top International Education Ranking, OECD Says
CNN reports teens from the Chinese city of Shanghai are the best in the world in math, reading, and science, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). One Chinese official says Shanghai “will spend a lot of resources in making sure that each teacher is well trained, has opportunities to go abroad, [and] has opportunities to learn from the best teachers.”


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News website at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

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