Higher Education

Benjamin Scafidi | August 10, 2017

Oklahoma’s (missing) $8,872 teacher pay raise

Benjamin Scafidi

Since 1992 Oklahoma public schools have increased spending by 26 percent per student, adjusted for inflation. At the same time, public school teachers received only a 4 percent real increase in purchasing power.

Given that public schools have received large increases in taxpayer support but are providing scant pay increases for teachers, it’s fair to ask where all the money is going.

In a new report, “Back to the Staffing Surge,” I show that America’s public schools have been on a 65-year binge during which increases in the hiring of public school employees have been far in excess of increases needed to accommodate student enrollment growth.

Specifically, the increase in teachers has been two-and-a-half times as large as the increase in students, leaving us with significantly smaller class sizes. But the increase in non-teachers—district and school administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers, reading and math coaches, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, curriculum specialists, and everybody else—was more than seven times the increase in students.

This staffing surge occurred in Oklahoma’s public schools as well. According to data that the Oklahoma Department of Education reports to the U.S. Department of Education, since 1992 Oklahoma public schools have increased the number of non-teachers by 36 percent, while the number of students increased by only 17 percent.

I use this federal data because it’s the only source of accurate and complete information on public school spending and staffing for all 50 states. Other data—even data found on official state websites—often excludes entire classes of personnel (such as classified staff) or excludes entire categories of spending.

Oklahoma now employs more non-teachers than teachers.

A cautious estimate is that the post-1992 staffing surge in non-teachers has cost Oklahoma taxpayers $373 million per year. As shown in my report, while the public school staffing surge raged from sea to shining sea, outcomes for students were largely stagnant. So while the staffing surge was a costly failure, it also deprived Oklahoma teachers of an $8,872 permanent raise.

Are federal and state mandates to blame for the hiring of all these non-teachers? If so, we would expect the staffing surge to be uniform across states or across Oklahoma school districts. But it’s not. Some districts (Deer Creek, for example) have prioritized the hiring of teachers, while others (Ada and Tahlequah, for example) prefer non-teachers.

What job types are primarily responsible for the increases in “all other staff”?

Unfortunately, data reported to the federal government do not allow me or anyone to accurately answer that question. The Oklahoma State Department of Education holds the key; it should post the job files on its transparency website so researchers can perform the necessary analysis.

Then Oklahomans can decide for themselves if they think the non-teaching staffing surge is warranted—or if teacher pay raises would be a better use of resources.

The staffing surge has been going on for 65 years. Sadly for teachers, there’s no reason to think it will stop.

Benjamin Scafidi (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is a professor of economics at Kennesaw State University and a Friedman Fellow with EdChoice.

Benjamin Scafidi

Contributing Author

Benjamin Scafidi (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is a professor of economics in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University and a senior fellow with EdChoice. Dr. Scafidi has testified as an expert witness for the state of Georgia in school funding litigation.

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