Since 2000, education funding in Alaska has been funneled increasingly into administrative and support roles rather than directly benefiting students in the classroom. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that while Alaska districts decreased their number of teachers, they increased the number of administrative and support staff — some by exorbitant percentages.
Only one in four Alaskan fourth graders are proficient in reading. Improving the state’s poor education outcomes requires making investments in teachers and resources to improve the quality of education for students. Yet this isn’t what has happened in Alaska: between 2002 and 2020, total education expenditures — including state, federal, and local money — in Alaska rose by almost a third after adjusting for inflation. Instructional salaries increased by only one percent per student, while school administrator salaries grew by 42 percent.
Most administrative and support services, while they may be worthwhile, are tangential to the business of ensuring Alaska’s students have the basic skills needed to succeed. If there are many teachers in a district compared to the number of other staff, it is likely the district is investing in the teaching and resources that directly affect students.
The NCES data tables categorize education staff into school staff, school district staff, and other staff. For this analysis, school staff includes principals and assistant principals, instructional aides, guidance counselors, librarians, and school and library support staff. Teachers are considered school staff by NCES, but this analysis labels teachers separately and does not include them in school staff.
School district staff include officials and administrators, instructional coordinators, and administrative support staff. Other staff includes staff that isn’t neatly categorized into either school staff or school district staff, such as student support and other support services staff.
- From 2000 to 2019, student enrollment dropped by 1%, from 133,356 to 132,017 students. This does not account for post-pandemic drops in enrollment, which in 2021 stood at 129,944 students.
- The number of total staff increased by 6% statewide from 2000 to 2019.
- That increase in total staff was not fueled by increases in the number of teachers: teachers decreased by 5%, while all non-teachers increased by 17%.
- Growth in non-teachers statewide was largely school district administration. Statewide, school district staff increased by 45%, while school staff increased by 18% and other staff increased by 6%.
- The teacher-to-non-teacher ratio since 2000 has decreased from almost one teacher for every non-teacher (0.97 to 1) in 2000 to almost four teachers for every five non-teachers (0.79 to 1) in 2019. This change is recent, as the ratio was above 0.8 between 2006 and 2018. This ratio is the lowest since 2000; the last time that there were almost four teachers for every five non-teachers was in 2004 and 2005.
- The ratio of teachers to school district staff was almost 8 teachers for each member of school district staff (7.62 to 1) in 2000 and dropped to 5 teachers for each member of school district staff (4.98 to 1). The ratio of teachers to school staff (1.85 to 1 in 2000, 1.49 to 1 in 2019) and the ratio of teachers to other staff (2.81 to 1 in 2000, 2.53 to 1 in 2019) both dropped as well, but not as markedly.
- In 2000, 16 districts and Mt. Edgecumbe High School counted more teachers than other staff. In 2021, teachers were outnumbered in all but seven school districts in Alaska.
School District Takeaways
- Most districts posted relatively modest losses or gains in enrollment between 2000 and 2019, with school districts in the middle decreasing enrollment by about 15%. Some districts bucked the trend; for example, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District gained 50%, the Chugach School District increased its enrollment by 188%, and the Yukon-Koyukuk School District increased its enrollment by 300%.
- On average, each district reduced its number of teachers by 12% between 2000 and 2019.
- On average, each district increased its number of non-teachers by 12% between 2000 and 2019.
- The teacher-to-non-teacher ratio average for districts decreased somewhat between 2000 and 2019 (0.89 to 1 in 2000, 0.74 to 1 in 2019).
Analysis of the Anchorage School District
- The Anchorage School District between 2000 and 2019 decreased its enrollment by almost 7% and reduced its number of teachers by 3%.
- ASD’s total staff increased by 5% and the number of non-teachers increased by 14%.
- In 2019, ASD’s ratio of teachers to non-teachers was about 10 non-teachers for every nine teachers (or 0.89 teachers to each non-teacher). In 2000, the ratio of teachers to nonteachers was more than one teacher for every non-teacher (1.06 teachers to each non-teacher.)
- Concerning different staff categories, administrative staff generally increased, some by large margins. School administrative support staff, which includes clerical staff and secretaries assisting the office of the principal, almost doubled (up 92%). District administrative support staff, who provide business office, data processing, and secretarial support to the school district, increased by 45%.
- Most astounding is that district administrators, which includes “superintendents, deputies, and assistant superintendents” and “other persons with districtwide responsibilities” increased from 48 district administrators in 2000 to 252 in 2019. That’s a 427% increase.
- Other categories of increase were paraprofessionals (20%), guidance counselors (up 25%), and librarians/media specialists (up 19%).
- Categories of decrease were other support services (-25%), including maintenance workers, bus drivers, and food service workers; school administrators, including principals and related supervisory roles (-14%); and media support staff (-59%).
While Alaska’s statewide enrollment decreased by one percent and the number of teachers declined by five percent between 2000 and 2019, the number of non-teachers grew by 17 percent. Statewide, the growth in school district staff, including administrators and district-wide positions, increased by 45 percent.
The number of students with disabilities has stayed relatively stable, but the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act required special education staffing to increase after its passage in 2001. In 2013, the earliest year for which data is available for Alaska, there were 6,842 students in the Anchorage School District with disabilities reported under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In 2021, there were 6,405 students in Anchorage with disabilities or a decline of six percent over eight years. Between 2000 and 2019, paraprofessionals in ASD averaged a one percent increase each year. The requirements of NCLB also require data collection and reporting that add to the burden of administrative staff.
While the functions of some administrators and support staff may be necessary, they are peripheral to ensuring students have the basic skills needed to realize their academic, economic, and social potential. Education funding should be prioritized to make the most impact on students in the classroom, which means more investment in teachers and less in administrative staff.