A couple weeks ago the Census released a report compiling expenditure data for states and localities, but its value was buried in a handful of stories with the headline, “Census: Feds Contributed Little to Schools in 2007,” the premise being that the federal government contributes, on average, 8.3 percent of all K–12 dollars. The articles mentioned the fact that the stimulus will increase this percentage substantially, but in general they provided little perspective, historical or otherwise.
Thanks to Mike Antonucci for doing some of the dirty work that journalists should have. He found that, over the last five years from 2005–6 to 2006–7, our nation’s school districts enrolled 60,000 more students while employing 20,000 more teachers.
Mike has the state-by-state breakdowns for the last five years here. Note that 35 states added full-time teachers at a faster rate (or subtracted more slowly) than they gained (or lost) students. Alabama’s enrollment went up 2.3 %, and they added 21.8% more teachers. Maryland’s enrollment declined 1.1% from 2001–02 to 2006–07, but they employed 8.7% more teachers than they did five years before. Virgina had 5% more students and 21.3% more teachers over the same time period.
A few states ran counter to this trend. West Virginia’s enrollment declined .3% but they lost 20% of their teaching workforce. Nevada managed to balance an 18.5% rise in enrollment with about the same percentage of additional teachers.
Yet, overall the numbers suggest a nation intent on lowering class sizes. The trend goes back to at least 1990 in our elementary schools. While research has found some benefits to lower class sizes for earlier grades and for more needy students, there has been little to suggest that such a policy is merited nationwide. And, because teacher salaries make up 60–80% of district expenditures, class size reduction efforts bring real financial consequences. It also prompts the discussion of what we value in education the most. The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) recently released a brief comparing the financial tradeoffs involved with laying off teachers and increasing class size or reducing wages. This is an unpleasant debate, but it’s one that is not confronted as often or as straightforward as it should be. Thanks to Antonucci and CRPE for laying out more clearly the consequences of our decisions.
Updated for accuracy.