November 6 2012

Public Schools for Students or Jobs Program for Administrators?

Vicki E. Alger

A new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice analyzes the increase in public school personnel relative to the increase in students since FY 1992. It finds:

-Public school staff grew at a rate four times faster than the increase in students from 1950 to 2009.

-Since 1950 the number of K-12 public school students increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent.

-The number of teachers increased 252 percent, but administrators and other staff ballooned by 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.

The report finds that not only does the United States devote more resources to non-teaching staff than other developed countries, eight states in addition to D.C increased non-teaching staff even when student enrollment declined: Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Vermont. Most important, all that staff does not improve student performance:

In a shocking finding, economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman and his co-author, Paul LaFontaine, found that public high school graduation rates peaked around 1970. Thus, as staffing was rising dramatically in public schools, graduation rates were not. …

After the sizeable increase in the teaching force and the dramatic upsurge in the hiring of non-teaching personnel, student achievement in American public schools has been roughly flat or modestly in decline.

As more adults gain employment in public schools, there is no evidence their numbers are leading to improved academic outcomes for students. And this increase in staffing has a significant opportunity cost. If non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as the growth in students and if the teaching force had grown “only” 1.5 times as fast as the growth in students, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year. This $37.2 billion in annual recurring savings could be used:

-to raise every public school teacher’s salary by more than $11,700 per year;

-to more than double taxpayer funding for early childhood education;

-to provide property tax relief;

-to lessen fiscal stress on state and local governments;

-to give families of each child in poverty more than $2,600 in cash per child;

-to give each child in poverty a voucher worth  more than $2,600 to attend the private school of his  or her parents’ choice;

-or to support a combination of the above or for some other worthy purpose.

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