Opinion: Why school spending has soared, but teachers’ salaries haven’t

The fault line dividing public opinion about school choice and other education reforms is spending. Proponents say we spend plenty today, with mediocre results. Opponents say the results would improve if we spent more.

The latter argument largely boils down to paying teachers better, hiring more of them, and reducing class sizes. So, what if I told you Georgia has increased school spending dramatically in recent decades without raising teachers’ salaries one cent?

empty-classroom

File photo

That’s the damning conclusion of a new study by Ben Scafidi, an economics professor at Kennesaw State University and senior fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

First, Scafidi shows the usually reported figure for per-pupil spending in Georgia, $9,020 in the 2015-16 school year, is well below the actual total of $11,031. Multiplied by the state’s 1.7 million public school students, that’s a difference of $3.5 billion between what the public is typically told we spend on education and what we actually spend. The larger figure includes capital projects, debt service and a host of smaller programs.

Interestingly, a Harvard study last year showed the public tends to underestimate the amount spent on education even more drastically than that — and that their appetite for increasing school spending drops by about one-third when told the actual, higher numbers. (Just so we’re clear, the practice of under-reporting in Georgia, and many other states, long predates that Harvard study.)

With the actual spending number established, Scafidi shows per-pupil spending in Georgia, adjusted for inflation, grew by 56 percent between 1988 and 2014 (the earliest and latest years for which he could find comparable data). And that’s largely after a sharp uptick in the 1980s, when the Quality Basic Education Act was passed.

Teachers’ salaries, however, have languished. Adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia teacher in 2014 made $26 less per year than in 1988.

It’s no wonder teachers feel they’ve been shortchanged, even though school budgets haven’t been.

The other half of the “spend more” argument, reducing class sizes, is as advertised. Scafidi shows the number of teachers grew 36 percent faster than the number of students during those years. As a result, the average Georgia teacher has two fewer students in her classroom today than a quarter-century ago.

But the larger number of teachers doesn’t explain nearly all of the higher spending. Rising even faster than the number of teachers was the number of non-teaching staff, which outpaced growth in student enrollment by 61 percent.

Scafidi estimates that, even if Georgia had maintained its rate of teacher hiring but simply kept non-staff hiring even with student growth, the savings would be at least $1 billion per year.

That $1 billion, he writes, “could have been used (among other things) to give teachers a permanent raise of almost $10,000 per year or to give $8,000 education savings accounts (ESAs) to the families of more than 135,000 students.”

Divide the money differently, and we could have reduced class sizes and given teachers a permanent, 10 percent raise and given an ESA worth several thousand dollars a year to every child in a chronically failing school.

So tell me: Why are we still talking about the amount we spend on schools, instead of how we spend it?

Reader Comments 0

179 comments
Diane
Diane

Over the past 10 years, businesses have been given significant tax credits to do business...which is income taken from schools....and from which teachers salaries would have increased...not shared in these statistics is the growth of children in Georgia these past 10 years....the mix of the two unwritten items=defunded education.


LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Diane

Kyle:  "the number of teachers grew 36 percent faster than the number of students"

Diane:  didn't read Kyle's post.

Leftandright
Leftandright

The foxes are in charge of the hen house - the increase in the number of admins is needless but they have they keys to the safe. So the obvious happens. Your article is spot on.

Starik
Starik

@Leftandright In DeKalb, the textbook example of education as a job creator for adults, the ratio of bureaucrats to teachers is something near 2:1.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Sheets upstairs on craft beer. For Headely, DeVos was confirmed. Outstanding!!!

bu22
bu22

The question you didn't answer is what is that 56% increase adjusted for inflation (or if that is already adjusted).  The CPI nearly doubled from 1988 to 2014.   You did adjust teacher's salaries.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@bu22

"adjusted for inflation" was separated  by a mere two words from "56%".

Mr_B
Mr_B

I don't know about the Atlanta area, but out here in rural Georgia I have not seen a single new desk appear in a high school that serves about six hundred kids in 15 years. In 2012 we lost ten days of classroom time to furloughs, and we still haven't brought actual instruction time back to that level. Teachers are now being paid the same as they were 5 years ago, but generally with increased class loads.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

My reply to FIGMO, below, has disappeared.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

When you throw in capital spending, you are opening the questioning the big uptick in computer and software spending that has occurred since 1988. Has it added any value other than to the bank accounts of the companies that sell communications and IT to the schools? Did Bush's "No Child Left Behind" add costly tracking requirements? Did laws requiring disabled children special education add costs? How much is spent on sports teams and how has it changed? I know the HS near me as spent a fortune in new facilities. Do we want these things or not?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 If I choose to send my child to a religious based educational institution, the government has no say in the matter. None. 


As long as it doesnt include my tax dollars. Go for it. You can today.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

 Really, do you have a problem with "Thou shalt not kill."


No. and I dont need the Ten Commandments to tell me that.


Is adultery illegal ? What about coveting ? No graven images or  likenesses ?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Why no comments on DeVos Kyle ?


If anything your silence on this is raising eyebrows.

breckenridge
breckenridge

For example, they are strangely silent on the military having paid chaplains for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airman. 

Good call there. And it was George Washington that make the terrible mistake of having taxpayers pay the salaries of military chaplains.  James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, was most unhappy about it also, and was preparing do away with the policy during his presidency.  But then the war of 1812 took center stage and it went by the wayside.

My main problem with clergy in the military is with the satanic fundamentalist preachers and the manure they try to push on people. But none of them should freeload off the taxpayers.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@breckenridge

But taxpayers should definitely be on the hook for a military person who wants to cut off their own wee-wee.

Leftists are sick.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Hedley_Lammar @LilBarryBailout @breckenridge

If that's what he's done then I would oppose it.  I suspect you've drunk some random Koolaid.  If you're talking about rolling back Dodd-Frank, you're talking about rolling back something that doesn't at all get tax payers off the hook for Wall St.

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

Since the state of Georgia is still at the bottom in per child spending and we went the last ten years cutting spending on education then school boards have not been willing to raise taxes to pay teachers more. It's a vicious cycle isn't it. 

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Oka-y, let's go over this sl-owly, it is a very impo-rtant point, and a lot of pe-ople on the rig-ht are not thi-nking this through.

-

FDR and St-alin; Rus-sia had com-mitted many at-roc-ities in the 1930's aga-inst the Po-les and their own peo-ple, FDR sur-ely knew of these. But to lose WW2 and bring an end to the free wo-rld over some mo-ral gran-dstan-ding?


#2, by not haug-htily saying that the US is mo-rally super-ior to Ru-ssia it ac-complishes two tasks, the first being that Unit-ed St-ates has now righ-tfully admi-tted that we too have made mis-takes in the past, the Die-m brot-hers in S-outh Vie-tnam are just one exam-ple, and it puts our own cou-ntry on notice that we need to be MORE cauti-ous in the way we ap-pro-ach the world. What could pos-sibly be wrong with this?


The se-cond thing it does is also put pu-tin on noti-ce, altho-ugh I do not think that was Trump's inte-ntion. Yes, you are a kil-ler, vlad. And it is not going to be swe-pt under the rug any-more. We are wo-rking with you tow-ards a com-mon goal and if you do not want to def-end your sta-te sec-urity ac-tions before the wh-ole wo-rld, then don't com-m-it crimes while car-rying them out. Wh-ether he even ca-res or not is to be deci-ded but what doe-s it hurt to try?


Ma-ybe we just sa-ved some jour-nalist's life, who kno-ws?

Radical Moose-Lamb
Radical Moose-Lamb

 Adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia teacher in 2014 made $26 less per year than in 1988.


  1. Wage stagnation is nothing new; it's pretty much the same story for the majority of the working class.  But we keep insisting on electing people (in both parties, lest the Trumpkins start foaming at the mouth) that do nothing but make it worse.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

1). It may be that with all the new teachers hired in recent years, the average tenure and pay have dropped.

2). There's no reason to pay teachers more unless we're demanding better teachers.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Ychromosome @Lil_Barry_Bailout

Fair question.  My point is related to yours.  We shouldn't just pay people more and expect better performance.  We should demand better qualified teachers, or more experienced teachers, or whatever characteristic we think we need in our teachers, and then pay high enough salaries to attract sufficient numbers of those kinds of teachers.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

@Lil_Barry_Bailout The question is, would a higher salary would attract a better group of people to the teaching profession? 

Laurie8750
Laurie8750

Agreed!  Cut the fat.  Teachers are the most important resource.  Give them a decent wage and empower them in the classrooms.  

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

"So, what if I told you Georgia has increased school spending dramatically in recent decades without raising teachers’ salaries one cent?"


This applies to areas outside of Atlanta as well?

Does this reflect more on the state wide government in charge? 


McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Starik @McGarnagle


Kind of goes contrary to the post. State government does care because the people care.


"Scafidi shows per-pupil spending in Georgia, adjusted for inflation, grew by 56 percent between 1988 and 2014"

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

If I were Betsy Devos, my first official act at the Department of Education would be to order that the entry way of every public school in the nation displayed the Ten Commandments.


How can anyone possibly be against the Ten Commandments?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Really, do you have a problem with "Thou shalt not kill."

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

@AndyManUSA#45  #10 (shall not covet) might be uncomfortable for the takers - what with the obsession regarding the makers not paying their "fair share", free stuff, etc.

Caius
Caius

@AndyManUSA#45  "How can anyone possibly be against the Ten Commandments?"


Well millions are against the Ten Commandments, or shall we say the 11 Commandments as Jesus gave us a new commandment. 

Try this commandment, "Thou shall not commit adultery". Millions ignore that one. Then Jesus added to that the warning that if one is married, then divorced and remarries, he commits adultery.  Yet millions have done so. Kinda telling Jesus to stick it where the sun don 't shine.


AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Most of the passengers were Separatists, fleeing persistent religious persecution, but some were hired hands, servants, or farmers recruited by London merchants, all originally destined for the Colony of Virginia.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower


No one, even the most ate up bozos like breckinridge, can deny that this country was founded by those who sought the freedom to practice their religion. They left Europe, risking their lives to travel across the ocean, because of the government persecuting their beliefs. Now, taken in that^^ context, how does the phrase "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion" translate? 


If I choose to send my child to a religious based educational institution, the government has no say in the matter. None. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@AndyManUSA#45


The funny thing is that while they are trying to impose themselves on where a parent sends his kid to school they conveniently ignore other facets of the state and religion being in bed together. For example, they are strangely silent on the military having paid chaplains for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airman.