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May 31, 2011

1) Trading Students for Employees. With politicians and education policy-makers preoccupied by budget cuts and layoffs, it is easy to overlook why we find ourselves in this position. Fortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau rides in to remind us.

Each year the bureau publishes a comprehensive report on public school revenues and expenditures. Coupled with education staffing statistics from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data, it gives us a fundamental picture of the finances and labor costs of the American public school system.

The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession. That year, 48,238,962 students were enrolled in the U.S. K-12 public education system. That was a decline of 157,114 students from the previous year. They were taught by 3,231,487 teachers (full-time equivalent). That was an increase of 81,426 teachers from the previous year.

This is not new information. We knew last October that the entire public education workforce - teachers, principals, administrators and support workers - grew by more than 137,000 employees during the recession.

What the Census Bureau numbers add to that information is that we almost replaced every lost student with a new employee.

Twenty-seven states had fewer students in 2009 than in 2008, but 16 of them hired more teachers.

Per-pupil spending rose 2.6 percent, and spending on employee compensation (salaries and benefits) rose 2.3 percent. The United States average for per-pupil spending was $10,499, with 25 states spending more than $10,000 per student.

Annual statistics of this type are useful, but figures can fluctuate from year-to-year as school administrators try to match staff levels with enrollment. Long-term trends tend to flatten some of the spikes, and I have constructed a table of the 50 states that examines enrollment, hiring and labor costs over a five-year period (I will eventually update figures for each of America's more than 13,000 school districts).

From 2004 to 2009, student enrollment increased a cumulative 0.7 percent, while the K-12 teacher workforce increased 6.5 percent. Per-pupil spending increased 26.7 percent (about 12.5% after correcting for inflation). Spending on education employee salaries and benefits increased 27.5 percent.

It's an odd enterprise that reacts to fewer clients by hiring more employees. The day of reckoning was postponed, but finally arrived this year. Unfortunately, there was no rapture to accompany it.

2) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from May 17-31:

*  NEA Membership Losses Continue. 95,000 over 18 months.

Rubber Rooms on The Simpsons. "Hey, find your own crack!"

*  Howard Dean Phones In From Planet Mongo. Yeeeeargh!

Bombs Keep Falling After End of War on Charter Schools. Mission not accomplished.

Failed Prediction of the Week. State of emergency.

"I will get things done." AmeriCorps volunteers learn about unions.

Another Road Trip to Scottish Hooters? Economic boom for Rockford, Illinois?

3) Quote of the Week. "Along with 250 fellow teachers, I took the entire week off to lobby and demonstrate - during the middle of state testing for most California schools. Many of us went on union release time, with CTA spending $1 million to pay for substitute teachers. For teachers to leave their classrooms at this time of the semester wasn't easy, and it showed how committed we were." - Alice Mercer, Sacramento elementary school teacher. (May 19 Labor Notes)


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