School Staffing Surge Report Released Today

October 24, 2012

By Peggy Venable, AFP-Texas Director

In 1980, I had the privilege of serving as the first White House Liaison to the U.S. Department of Education under President Reagan.  During Reagan’s first term, the Department of Education issued a watershed report “A Nation At Risk” and revealed that the American public education system had fallen behind other developed countries.

An equally important report was issued today.

The Friedman Foundation has issued a new report on decades of employment growth in America’s public schools.  The report, titled “The School Staffing Surge” reveals a troubling trend that addresses the issue: have we made wise investments in public education spending?

The report found that while student enrollment grew 17% from 1992 to 2009, administrative and other staff grew 47%.  Teaching staff numbers grew 32%.

And comparing US public schools to other nations found that while we spend on average 54.8% on teachers, other nations spent 63.8%.  And the disproportionate spending provided no evidence in improved student achievement.

Even though the US spends more money per student relative to almost all other nations, it does not have higher student achievement. And National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores have not improved as public school staffing has ballooned.

Dr. Benjamin Scafidi authored the report.  Dr. Scafidi is professor of economics and director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University.  He is also a fellow with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and director of education policy for the Georgia Community Foundation, Inc.

One argument regarding today’s students being more disadvantaged was debunked in the report which found “…it appears American students, on balance, are slightly more advantaged than students of a few decades ago…Despite that relative advantage and the rather large increase in spending devoted to public education, public high school graduation rates are lower and test scores are flat or have declined slightly.”

How did Texas rank relative to the rest of the nation?  While the US increase in administrators and other non-teaching staff grew 45.7% and student enrollment grew 17.2% from 1992-2009. Texas student enrollment grew 37.2% and administrative and other non-teaching staff ranks grew a shocking 171.8%.

The non-teaching staff bureaucracy in Texas grew almost five times faster than student enrollment.  Over the same time, the number of teachers grew only 49.6% or 1.3%.

The report asserts that as public school staffing grows, there is no evidence their numbers are leading to improved academic outcomes for students.

If non-teacher staffing had grown at the rate of student enrollment increases and teaching staff had grown even 1.5 times as fast, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion more a year to spend on quality teachers, property tax relief.  That would provide enough funding to provide more than $2,600 per child categorized as poor.

Another interesting finding in the report deals with class size:

“A large body of research finds dramatic differences in effectiveness between high-performing and low-performing teachers.  Given that class-size reductions force public schools to hire more low-performing teachers, funds spent on class size reduction and administration would seem better allocated toward higher salaries for great teachers – if one wanted to keep those taxpayer funds in the public education system.”

The report is particularly timely since the Texas school finance lawsuit began Monday of this week.  Taxpayers have intervened challenging the constitutionality of the current funding system claiming it is not efficient.

I will be an expert witness in that lawsuit.  The Red Apple Project has chronicled several years of reckless and inefficient spending by Texas public schools.

The study released today by the Friedman Foundation makes the case for Texas taxpayers who have called for more education for our dollars, not simply more dollars for education.

Another finding provides empirical research that public schools subject to more competitive pressure from private schools raised public school test scores.  The report reveals “All forms of enhanced school choice tried in the U.S. have led to an improvement in academic outcomes – in just one case was there no effect – for those in public schools.

We in Texas have more data to consider as we enter the 2013 legislative session.  AFP-Texas has long made the case that we don’t need more money in the school system, we need more of the available education dollars directed to the classroom and we need to empower parents with the opportunity to choose the educational environment where they believe their children have the greatest opportunity to succeed.

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