Benjamin Scafidi | February 1, 2017

Non-Teaching Staff Surge Prevented Oklahoma Teacher Pay Raises

Benjamin Scafidi

Oklahoma state law tries to hold down administrative expenses in public schools. That is a great idea in theory, but does it result in the hiring of more teachers instead of hiring other staffers? The short answer is no.

According to data reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Education, from the 1991-92 school year to 2014-15, the increase in teachers (12 percent) in Oklahoma public schools has not kept up with the increase in students (17 percent).

However, the increase in “all other staff” (folks who are not lead teachers) has increased 36 percent. That’s more than twice as fast as the increase in students.

In the 1991-92 school year, teachers constituted 54 percent of all Oklahoma public school employees. By 2014-15, teachers were only 49 percent of public school employees.

It is worth noting that the national staffing surge in public schools began as far back as 1950. And these large increases in staffing—relative to the increases in students—have not been associated with gains in student achievement.

These staffing decisions have had a tremendous opportunity cost. Let’s suppose that Oklahoma’s increase in “all other staff” (non-teachers) had simply matched the 17 percent increase in students over this 23-year period.

Oklahoma public schools would have had at least $255 million per year in annual recurring savings (and that’s a cautious, conservative estimate).

With $255 million per year, Oklahoma could give each teacher a pay raise of more than $6,000.

Another option: Oklahoma could reduce class sizes by giving a $7,000 scholarship to more than 36,000 students, thus allowing them to attend the school of their family’s choice.

There are other policy options. The point is that there is an opportunity cost associated with this staffing surge.

I have studied this issue extensively for years and have found that the hiring of all of these extra “other staff” cannot be blamed solely on federal and state mandates, as the pattern of this staffing surge has not been uniform across states or across school districts within Oklahoma. If mandates from on high had been the sole cause of this staffing surge, then uniform patterns of increased staffing would be present across states and across school districts within states.
So, 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 has the job files necessary to do such an analysis. In the interest of transparency, the department should provide those files to outside researchers so they can analyze what job types led to the decades-long staffing surge in Oklahoma’s public schools.

Then Oklahomans can decide for themselves if they think these staffing increases are a wise use of resources—or if they would prefer teacher pay raises instead.

Benjamin Scafidi (Ph.D., University of Virginia) is director of the Education Economics Center in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. The views expressed here are his alone.

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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