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October 8, 2012

1)  Unions Finally Discover Relationship Between Enrollment and Staffing. The union-backed Economic Policy Institute published a post last Friday headlined, "Job gain remains steady in September, but job gap in local public education remains high." And while author Heidi Shierholz ranges far and wide through the latest job numbers, there is one paragraph that needs more scrutiny.

Under the sub-head "The 300,000 teacher gap," Shierholz writes:

In September, public-sector employment increased by 10,000. However, over the last four years, it has declined by 572,000. With kids heading back to the classroom this fall, it's worth considering how much of that drop has hit public schools. Around 40 percent of the decline in public sector employment over the last four years was in local government education, which is largely jobs in public K-12 education (the majority of which are teachers, but also teacher aides, librarians, guidance counselors, administrators, support staff, etc.). Furthermore, public K-12 enrollment increased by 0.8 percent over this period (using the enrollment growth rates found in Table 1 here). Just to keep up with this growth in the student population, employment in local public education should have grown at roughly the same rate, which would have meant adding around 62,000 jobs. As the figure shows, adding what was lost to what should have been added to keep up with the expanding student population, the total jobs gap in local public education as a result of the Great Recession and its aftermath is over 300,000.

In an accompanying table, she takes 253,000 local government education jobs lost in the last four years, adds in 62,000 jobs that should have been created to coincide with a cumulative 0.8% enrollment increase over the same period, and comes up with a 315,000 jobs gap.

There are a few problems with this formulation. First, despite explaining the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers include all local government education jobs, she still refers to a 300,000 "teacher" gap. You can call it a 300,000 local government school employee gap, or a 160,000 teacher gap, but you can't choose one number from Column A and one job description from Column B.

Second, in an accompanying blog post that uses these figures to berate Mitt Romney and praise President Obama, Shierholz refers to only 228,000 lost jobs in the last four years, not 253,000.  "Putting these numbers together," she writes, "(i.e., what was lost plus what should have been added to keep up with the expanding student population,) the total jobs gap in local public education as a result of the Great Recession and its aftermath is more than 300,000." Even without my calculator, I can add two numbers, and 290,000 is not more than 300,000.

Third, Shierholz apparently believes that 2008 had the optimal level of K-12 staffing and conveniently ignores previous years. She also makes the unfounded assumption that K-12 hiring is matched to student enrollment. Even a cursory look at the numbers should put that notion to rest.

Since Shierholz looked at the last four years, I'll look at the previous four years, 2004-2008. During that period of time, BLS reported growth in the local government education workforce of 4.25%.  The number of classroom teachers grew 4.5% from 2004 to 2008, according to National Education Association figures. How much did student enrollment grow? Only 1.3 percent. That's a pretty big "student gap" that didn't prompt an Economic Policy Institute report.

So you can argue that we are 300,000 education employees short of 2008, or you can argue that even after the Great Recession we are still 100,000 education employees ahead of 2004, which if I remember correctly was not exactly considered the Dark Ages of school hiring.

Had education staffing kept pace with enrollment, rather than greatly exceeding it, the current reductions in force would be greatly mitigated, perhaps even eliminated entirely. It was not some unforeseen cataclysm, but the inevitable result of policy choices we have made over the past decade.

2)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from September 25-October 8:

*  Fordham to Peer Into the Future of Teachers' Unions. With cookies!

Failed Mediation in Hawaii Leads to Really Long Press Release. An even more liberal Democrat fights with teachers' union.

3)  Quote of the Week. "District officials say the new teachers contract, reached after a seven-day strike, will add $103 million in salary costs to this year's budget. Next year, officials are predicting a $1 billion deficit with $338 million in pension payments coming due. To meet this year's $665 million deficit, the district drained its cash reserves." - October 5 Chicago Tribune.


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