The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education began including teacher absences on its biennial Data Collection survey in 2009. According to a new report from the Center for American Progress, teacher absences cost more than $4 billion annually.

The analysis found that among teachers from the nearly 57,000 schools examined nationwide, an average of more than one out of three (36 percent) were absent more than 10 days during the 2009-10 school year. The analysis also found that:

  • Utah had the lowest average teacher absence rate at 21 percent, compared to more than 50 percent in Rhode Island.
  • Teachers are absent from traditional public schools at a rate that is more than 15 percentage points higher than charter schools.
  • Teacher absences at schools enrolling predominantly minority students are more than three percentage points higher than schools with low minority student enrollments.

As the analysis concludes:

Schools spend more on the salary and benefits of teachers than any category of expenditure, so it’s not surprising that the financial costs of teacher absence are high….

In addition, districts routinely generate teacher absences themselves by conducting professional development activities during class time. Charter schools are less likely to engage in this practice, but traditional districts tend to see the costs of absence as lower than the costs of lengthening teachers’ contract year with a proportional increase in salary. This false dichotomy provides a glimpse of how rigid, traditional compensation systems stifle creative, cost-saving, and strategic thinking.

Maybe teachers union bosses should keep these findings in mind next time they strike or leave the classroom to “volunteer” for political campaigns.