You Choose-Bigger Schools or More TeachersEducation, Fiscal Policy — By Online Editor on October 19, 2015 at 7:23 AM
Alaska needs the Massachusetts law limiting school sizes
Massachusetts has the highest performing school system in the U.S. and Alaska has one of the lowest performing school systems. The achievement gap between kids in Alaska and Massachusetts is not trivial — as much as two years in achievement difference in several key standard NAEP(National Assessment of Educational Progress) measurements. Given this large achievement gap between these two states, it’s interesting that schools in Massachusetts are actually much smaller in terms of floor space per student than Alaska. That’s because Massachusetts has a state law limiting the size of schools on a per student basis.
Over the last few decades we have experienced dramatic increases in the square footage of K-12 schools, with very little indication that these more spacious facilities produce any better results. In Anchorage, elementary school floor space has grown by more than 800,000 square feet in the last 20 years, while the number of kids attending neighborhood elementary schools has fallen by more than 4,400 during that same time period. What is known for sure is that these larger facilities are more expensive to build, operate, and maintain and they have a much larger carbon footprint. That robs resources that could otherwise be focused on classroom instruction and contributes to environmental pollution.
Massachusetts recognizes that it is more important to focus resources on classroom instruction. It has curbed school building inflation by setting maximum standards for how large new schools can be: Massachusetts allows a maximum of 115 square feet per student for elementary students, 135 square feet for middle school students, and 155 square feet for high school kids. Under these standards, new schools in Massachusetts are 25-40% smaller per student than schools in Anchorage.
The savings from smaller school buildings is significant. It takes the ASD around $10 per square foot/ year to maintain, heat and light its facilities. With a current floor space inventory of around 1.8 million square feet more than would be allowed by the maximum standard in Massachusetts, Anchorage is spending about $18 million/year more than what taxpayers in Massachusetts would spend for the same number of kids. Saving $18 million in facilities cost each year would go a long way– it could fund 180 teaching positions every year. Add to that the principal and interest cost to fund the $630 million in capital costs for that excess floor space potential savings are even more dramatic. If we had that $630 million (plus interest) back, we could fund the payroll and benefits for the entire ASD for a year, with money left to spare.
So, Anchorage needs to decide are big school buildings more important than great teachers. You can help make that decision. Our students deserve no less than your voice.