Follow the $$$: WILL Investigates Rise of Bureaucracy in K-12

New study gathers WI school districts’ spending data over the past six years, potentially showing mis-aligned priorities

The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) just released a new report: Defunding Classrooms: Investigating the Rise of Bureaucracy in K-12 Schools. We not only find a wide variation in school district spending, but an eyebrow-raising amount going toward administrators who have little or no contact with students.


The Quote: WILL Research Director—Will Flanders, PhD—said, “For years, public school bureaucracy has exploded, while enrollment has significantly decreased. Instead of raising teacher pay and ensuring academic success, money is being spent on programs and staff outside of the classroom. This raises red flags for education advocates and taxpayers alike.”


Why It Matters: Education in Wisconsin has become heavily bureaucratic, with the number of middlemen between the teacher-parent-student link growing significantly over the years. Under the most recent biennial state budget, public schools will see funding increases of more than $1 billion. It is critical that taxpayers are assured that their hard-earned money is being spent on teacher raises and student success.

For more information on what share of school district employees are administrative, check out WILL’s updated School Data Dashboard. This comprehensive, user-friendly, interactive tool also provides a snapshot of student proficiency, district funding and district-related information for every school district in the state.

Our Report’s Key Findings:

  • Total staff in schools has increased since 2017. The number of full-time equivalents (FTEs) in Wisconsin schools has grown by 2.67% over this time frame, even as statewide enrollment declined by 3.6%.
  • Student-teacher ratios have declined across the state. Despite staffing shortages, the dramatic decline in student enrollment over the past five years resulted in student-teacher ratios declining from 14.60 to 13.67 over the past five years.
  • Teachers with Master’s Degrees do not improve student performance. Although teachers who have earned a Master’s degree receive higher pay, student proficiency is not higher in districts that have more teachers with Master’s degrees.
  • “Woke” positions are among the largest areas of growth. While the absolute number of FTEs in these areas remains relatively low, the number of FTEs employed in connection with buzzwords like “Social-Emotional Behavioral Interventions/Support” and “Multicultural Education/Equity” are among the five fastest growing areas over the past five years.
  • Administrative staff varies extensively by district. It is difficult to assess whether a district is investing taxpayer dollars wisely in staffing when administrative staff percentages vary drastically across the state. For example, about 47% of FTEs in Gibraltar School District were administrative—compared to about 8% in Shawano School District.

Our Call To Action: Teachers, taxpayers, and state-level policymakers should be concerned about how districts choose to spend funds.

  • Teachers might consider turning their attention towards how school district spend their funds on expenditures unrelated to instruction, to ensure that money is making its way into the classroom instead of on administrative and capital expenditures.
  • Taxpayers should demand accountability from local school districts—as they lobby the legislature for more funding, or raise taxes through referendums on the ballot—demanding that they explain why spending on things like Social/ Emotional Support staff is needed first.
  • State-level policymakers should be concerned about districts with outlier levels of spending on administration, and shouldn’t be afraid to call spending choices into question when being lobbied for additional increases in state aid.

Dig Deeper:

Will Flanders, PHD

Will Flanders, PHD

Research Director

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