Friedman study: Public schools have wasted billions by hiring far too many employees for far too long

Mar 22, 2013 by

INDIANAPOLIS – Do public schools exist to educate students or provide jobs for adults?

It may seem like a stupid question, but the results of a recent study conducted by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice would likely surprise most taxpayers.

The report – complied with data from the National Center for Educational Statistics – shows taxpayers in all states but two hired non-teaching staff at a rate that far exceeded student enrollment between 1992 and 2009.

As states across the country slashed education funding to balance their budgets during the nation’s economic slump, and student enrollment grew by about 17 percent, local school boards hired 46 percent more non-teaching staff and 32 percent more teachers.

That reality has left most states with far more school employees than necessary, millions in excessive personnel expenses, and very few options to deal with the situation.

“I think we should be concerned about this trend for two reasons,” said Ben Scafidi, an economist at Georgia College & State University and author of the Friedman report. “First, student achievement didn’t go up and the resources used to pay for these extra bodies have an opportunity cost. These resources could have been used in other ways that benefit students.

“The second reason we should be concerned is it violates common sense. It’s time to do something different.”

Scafidi found that in 2009 administrators and non-teaching staff outnumbered classroom teachers in 21 states: Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Colorado, Oregon, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Louisiana, Wyoming, Vermont, Utah, Georgia, Alaska, New Hampshire, Iowa, and the District of Columbia – which is treated as a state in the report.

Virginia and Ohio non-teaching staff outnumbered teachers by the widest margins, with 60,737 and 19,040 more non-teaching staff than teachers, respectively.

“Taxpayers should be outraged public schools hired so many non-teaching personnel with such little academic improvement among students to show for it,” Robert Enlow, CEO of the Friedman Foundation said.

The report shows that if hiring in public schools would have followed student enrollment numbers, 48 states could have saved a combined $24 billion per year between 1992 and 2009.

“States could do much more constructive things with these kinds of dollars,” Enlow said. “State leaders could be permitting salary increases for great teachers, offering children in failing schools the option of attending a private school, or directing savings toward other worthy purposes. Instead states have allowed these enormous bureaucracies to grow.”

Nevada and Arizona were the only two states in which hiring for non-teaching staff mirrored changes in the student population, according to the study.

“Two states were exceptions to the rule – Nevada and Arizona – and both of these states had extremely rapid growth of students,” Scafidi said. “They were the only two exceptions to the pattern, but I wouldn’t give them a gold star just yet.

“The fact that (the increase in non-teaching staff) was slightly less (than student population gains) isn’t a reason to cheer.”

Contributing factors


Ben ScafidiScafidi said he believes the driving factors behind the excessive hiring trend are threefold: a lack of public awareness about the issue, a lack of competition from other types of educational options – such as charter or private schools, and political influences on public school decisions.

“In school board elections, typically public school employees pay the most attention and they are most likely to vote. So school boards often act in the best interests of school employees,” Scafidi said.

If hiring non-teaching personnel had not outpaced student enrollment, states including Texas, Virginia, Ohio, New York, California and Pennsylvania would literally have saved more than $1 billion per year, according to the Friedman report.

“I think a better use of that money would be to give students scholarships to private schools,” Scafidi said. “Another better use would be raises for teachers.”

Scafidi’s report shows the size of raises teachers could have received if school boards would have balanced non-teacher hiring with student enrollment. Virginia, for example, would have had an extra $29,007 per teacher, Maine would have saved $25,505 per teacher, and the District of Columbia would have had another $20,472 per teacher.

Scafidi said the runaway hiring of public school employees – which he first detailed in a report last year – is a trend that dates back decades, and likely will continue as long as public schools maintain a monopoly on education.

Scafidi’s previous report showed that between fiscal year 1950 and FY 2009, the number of U.S. public school students grew by 96 percent, while the number of full-time school employees exploded by 386 percent, or four times faster than student enrollment.

“This has been going on for six decades, at least,” he said.

Scafidi believes the only solution to the problem is true school choice, in which all parents can choose the school that’s the best fit for their child, whether it’s a public, private, or other type of educational option.

The increased competition would force public schools to address the excessive spending, and focus dollars more efficiently on academics, or risk losing students to private and other schools that put students first.

Scafidi said the excessive spending is particularly relevant as public schools across the country struggle to balance their budgets and deal with skyrocketing labor costs. Unless the public becomes aware of the hiring problem, and takes action to resolve it, public schools will continue their wasteful spending habits indefinitely, he said.

“I’m just concerned that if the economy turns around … we are going to repeat that pattern,” Scafidi said. “I hope by shining a light on these trends, parents, teachers and taxpayers will rise up and say we should be spending this money on students not adults outside of the classroom.”

Friedman study: Public schools have wasted billions by hiring far too many employees for far too long – :: Education Research, Reporting, Analysis and Commentary.

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