There were 523 press releases posted in the last 24 hours and 454,663 in the last 365 days.

It’s time to talk about education spending.

Public school runs through my veins. I’m the son and grandson of public school teachers, attended K-12 public schools, and eventually graduated from the public University of Mississippi. Our state’s public schools gave me the tools I needed to go on to Harvard Law School. My mother taught for 35 years in public schools, so it put food on our family’s table. I owe a lot to our public schools.

That’s why, when I became State Auditor, I directed my staff to begin working on projects to show how our state spends K-12 education money and how that spending compares to other states. Over an 18-month period, my office studied things like inside-the-classroom spending, teacher salaries, and outside-the-classroom waste.

In our first report, we showed outside-the-classroom spending on administration and non-instruction activities had increased in Mississippi over a ten-year period despite the fact that the number of K-12 students and classroom teachers has decreased during the same period.

If outside-the-classroom spending had remained the same per student during that time, Mississippi could have had more than $358 million to dedicate to spending in the classroom. For comparison, the price tag on last year’s teacher pay raise was about $50 million.

Our second report showed how Mississippi’s K-12 education spending compared to other states in the South. For a ten-year period, Mississippi spent a higher percentage of public education money outside the classroom and on administrative expenditures than almost every other state in the South. In fact, only Washington, DC, schools spent a higher percentage of their education funds on administration during that time. Mississippi also spent a smaller portion of money inside the classroom than most other southern states.

Our third report focused on salaries for teachers and administrators. It showed pay raises for some administrators were higher than pay raises for teachers. We also found teacher salaries had actually decreased when adjusted for inflation over a 10-year period while administrator pay had increased by 10%.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of doom and gloom about public schools. Mississippi has some great administrators and districts. But we’ve also got some room to improve. My goal is to make sure taxpayers know where their money is going and for districts to put as much money into the classroom where it directly affects students as possible.

Some school districts in our state are taking that challenge to improve seriously. When these three reports were first issued, three different school districts across the state reached out to my office and asked how they could eliminate wasteful or duplicative spending. My office has partnered with an advanced data analytics company to work with them to identify how they can eliminate useless spending.

The results from that partnership have been great so far. On our first pass, we found about $12 million in savings in the three school districts. If you found similar savings in every school district around the state, you could potentially save more than $200 million per year.

I’m committed to keep asking hard questions when it comes to your children, our schools, and your tax money. Ultimately, it’s going to take policy leaders in Mississippi coming together to work to eliminate unnecessary spending that can be redirected into the classroom. Our K-12 students are our future in Mississippi, and we’ve got to do everything we can to invest into them and set them up for success down the road.

Shad White is the 42nd State Auditor of Mississippi