The Miami-Dade County Public Schools spends less per student compared to only three larger districts in the united states but still manages to deliver top-tier student achievement results. So how exactly does the district accomplish this? Is there something about South Florida that enables the location to get more bang for its educational buck? Should you talk to superintendent Alberto Carvalho, he'll tell you that it isn't fate or magic but instead prioritizing the classroom, focusing on the drivers of faculty spending, and keeping that spending in check, something a number of other school districts could study from.
As the fourth-largest district in the usa, Miami educates more than 350,000 students, a higher pupil population than that of 13 states and the District of Columbia. According to the Census Bureau, Miami spends $9,240 per student each year. By comparison, New York City, the country's largest district, spends over $25,000 per student, and Los Angeles, the second-largest district, spends just over $13,500 per student. Chicago, the third-largest district, spends more than $13,400 per student. Even adjusting for cost of living (which in Miami is 50 % less than in Ny, 20 % less than in La, and 7 percent less than in Chicago, according to Payscale.com), Miami-Dade spends much less.
How has this happened? Partly, by bucking the \”staffing surge.\”
Ben Scafidi of Kennesaw State University has documented this school \”staffing surge\” for several years now. By comparing alterations in K -12 enrollment with changes in the number of teachers and nonteaching staff, he has documented the large growth in district personnel. Since 1950, a student population nationwide has doubled, or increased 100 percent, but the total number of faculty personnel has grown 381 percent. When Scafidi looked at that personnel number and divided it into teachers and nonteachers, he discovered that the amount of teachers grew 243 percent in that some time and nonteaching staff grew 709 percent. When Scafidi focused on time 1992 to 2021, though, he found that a student population grew by 19 percent, as the number of teachers rose 28 percent, and also the number of all other staff grew 45 percent.
Scafidi ran the numbers for Miami-Dade as well as for Florida to see whether they kept up with this trend or bucked it. Exploring the United States in general from fiscal years 1994 to 2021, Scafidi estimated the student population grew 16 percent, while the number of teachers grew 27 %, and also the number of other staff grew 51 percent. In Florida, the number of students grew 38 percent, while the number of teachers rose 69 percent, and also the number of other staff went up 43 percent. In Miami-Dade, the number of students rose 16 percent, the amount of teachers 35 %, and the number other staff 18 percent.
At a period when public education's nonteaching staff grew nationally for a price a lot more than 3 times the speed of increase in the pupil population, Miami kept them growing in tandem. Although the number of teachers rose a lot more than the number of students, when it comes to total teaching and nonteaching staff, Miami's growth was 1.6 times student growth, while nationwide it had been 2.Four times.
The financial data back this up. To quantify a district's administrative efficiency, Florida's Educational Funding Accountability Act requires districts to report administrative expenses and converts them into a way of measuring funds per full-time-equivalent staff member. These figures are calculated for both general revenue funds and special revenue funds that districts spend. In the two cases, Miami-Dade spends below the state average, according to the Florida Department of Education. With respect to general funds, Miami-Dade spends $535.44 per FTE, as the state averages $572.35. Regarding special revenue funds, it spends $34.86 per FTE in contrast to the state's average of $35.44.
Miami's relative parsimony didn't come in the cost of student achievement. Miami-Dade participates in the Trial Urban District Assessments, the city-centric administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In 2021, Miami dramatically outperformed the large-city average in 4th-grade reading, with an average of 225 scale-score points against the large-city average of 212, and in 4th-grade math, by having an average of 246 scale-score points against the large-city average of 235. In 8th-grade reading, Miami also outperformed national averages, although with a smaller margin, with 262 scale-score points for Miami versus a large-city average of 255. Miami scored at the average for big cities in 8th-grade math with 276 scale-score points for Miami and 274 for big cities-results that are not statistically different. When it comes to changes over time, from 2009 to 2021, which is dating back to consistent NAEP TUDA numbers go for Miami, the district is continuing to grow in 4th-grade math by 10 scale-score points as well as in 4th-grade reading by four scale-score points. It grew three scale-score points in 8th-grade math and remained stagnant in 8th-grade reading.
Much can be attributed to the district's self-described \”recession battle-hardened superintendent\” Alberto Carvalho, who took the reins in Miami-Dade in 2008 and spent his first couple of years dealing with the effects from the Great Recession. Where lots of school districts floundered, Carvalho believes Miami-Dade \”turned that crisis right into a profoundly transformative opportunity.\”
Miami-Dade cut administrative staff by 55 percent, shuttering one of two central offices since there were no staff members to fill it. Many of those staff had been educators and were moved back to schools to work more directly with students. Others were simply let go. The superintendent instituted a \”zero-based, value-based budget\” procedure that went line by line through spending and analyzed how every employee and program affected student learning. Even today, he says that \”adding a position to the finances are hard,\” as tough questions is going to be inquired about whether that job can be achieved by existing staff, solved by technology, or outsourced to a private provider.
Carvalho stresses that this was \”not austerity, but cost reduction and realignment.\” He and the staff renegotiated contracts with vendors, refinanced existing debt, and, perhaps most significantly, took the operation of the district's healthcare system into their own hands.
For several reasons, South Florida is home to some of the largest and fastest-rising healthcare expenses in the nation. The college district has nothing related to the area's aging population or high rates of Medicare and Medicaid fraud but must deal with those problems nonetheless. In response to double-digit annual cost increases for medical health insurance, the college system moved to become its very own health-insurance provider. It opened its own medical clinic and heavily subsidized preventive care because of its teachers and staff. This has kept healthcare-cost growth at between 4 and 5 percent annually and allowed the district to absorb those costs without passing them onto educators.
The neighborhood has rewarded this fiscal stewardship with two major wins in elections. In 2012, more than 68 percent of voters supported a $1.2 billion bond measure to modernize buildings. Carvalho promised that all the work would be made by the non-public sector and that these dollars would not add to the district's bureaucracy. He kept his word. Consequently, 71 percent of voters in November 2021 approved a referendum for more funding for teacher pay, which, according to Carvalho, will increase salaries in the district by between 13 and 23 percent. Zero dollars will go toward administration.
Miami implies that hard times present an chance to rethink how situations are done. Many districts need to rework vendor contracts, healthcare arrangements, pensions, and a host of other costly operational facets. When times are great, administrators look stingy trying to renegotiate these agreements, however when times are tough, the chance is there. Districts should still attempt to rework contracts in better financial times, because, the fact is, reworking long-term obligations will keep happy times going and blunt the effects of bad times. These renegotiations are easier when times are tough, and savvy administrators should realize that and leverage it.
Miami also teaches us that communities respect and reward fiscal responsibility, despite the fact that doing the right thing can be difficult. Renegotiating agreements can breed discontent, as can firing staff. Over the long term, however, prudent financial management can yield more resources. Citizens are skeptical of massive building projects, understanding that they may be venues for waste, fraud, and abuse. Miami-Dade was a good idea to meet this perception head-on and to promise the city to prevent these negative outcomes. Once the district succeeded, it was simpler to go back to the voters for higher teacher pay. Yet even then, the district again promised the money would go where it had been supposed to and never bloat the administration of the district. If districts want more money, therefore, the best thing they are able to do is prove to constituents that they will spend it well.
Finally, Miami proves that the staffing surge is not inevitable; districts don't have to do it, and they'll be okay when they don't. When asked about stemming the rising tide of administrative staff, Carvalho himself says, \”It wasn't a function of destiny or happenstance.\” The district made deliberate choices in the budgeting process to change it. Any district that wishes to could do the same.
Why should school districts worry about slowing the staffing surge? Well, if districts want to be capable of paying teachers more, offer smaller classes, improve facilities, or lessen the types of compliance burdens and box-checking that large bureaucracies create, trimming staff might help accomplish these goals and increase constituent trust in the process.