January 19, 2009

What's Going Up in Education

Justin Katz

As Marc and I have been illustrating, there are a number of ways to cut the data on education expenditures. That, indeed, is what makes it possible for unionists to declare this or that slice decisive, even if reality disagrees.

In the comments to Marc's post, for example, NEA Assistant Executive Director Pat Crowley seizes on Marc's observation that "the piece [of the education expenditure pie] that went to the teachers stayed relatively the same" from 2004 to 2007. In Crowley's estimation, that fact is proof that "collective bargaining costs are not what is driving the costs in education." Pat's really going for the bold, here, because "instructional teachers" spending is not the only subcategory directly dependent upon collective bargaining. He's also ignoring the fact that total education spending has gone up an average of 6% every year this decade (both per student and overall).

If the question is what subcategory of spending is driving up the cost of education in Rhode Island — or inversely, which subcategory has been soaking up our increasing investment therein — then the most direct insight will come from a graph depicting the per-student spending on each:

In the extended entry, I've provided similar graphs for various school districts that I found to be of interest for one reason or another. (I'd be happy to run more districts if readers have specific requests.) There are, of course, town-to-town variations that might be of interest to those familiar with the local particulars,* but the basic story is the same: Between roughly 2003 and 2005, funding switched from paraprofessionals (classroom aides and such) to therapists and other special- needs–related employees,** and funding for teachers has never ceased its climb. That, again, is excluding other subcategories that could justifiably be tacked on to the cost of teachers and — even more — teachers' unions.

* I find it interesting, for example, that Tiverton has seen such an unusual increase in pass-throughs, which include out-of-district services for special needs students as well as the limited resources redirected to private schools (such as some transportation costs and books). One reason could be that families that were priced out of better-performing districts like Portsmouth and Barrington opted for private school; another could be an increasing inclination to flee the public schools for any of the multiple private options available in the area. The protracted union "negotiations" can't have helped in that regard. It's also notable that Providence has such relatively low per-student spending on teachers. Whether that indicates a comparative lack of city funding or of state funding, I don't know.
** This shift from paraprofessionals to therapists probably explains why Crowley picked 2004 as the year for comparison with 2007: At the state level, 2004 marked the peak for paraprofessionals, which are counted in the "instruction" category that Crowley incorrectly uses as a stand-in for "teachers." His game is propaganda, not analysis.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Pat Crowley's "game is propaganda, not analysis."

Never a truer statement has been written.

Facts are not important elements to any discussion for the NEA folks.

Just look at the graph and the obvious take-away is the steepness of the upward sloping line for Teachers.

As already noted & discussed, the growth in Teacher pay has been outstripping the rate of Inflation by unsustainable levels.

Yet, Mr. Crowley continues to make assertions to the contrary.

Where are the "professionals", or at least the Math "teachers" within his flock? Why are none of them correcting him?

Again, the meat of the problem is that the Growth in Teacher pay is outpacing Inflation by unsustainable amounts.

This is easily demonstrated and not debatable.

This simple fact should be the only focus and should be hammered away over and over and over again.

To do otherwise is to open oneself up to silly discussions about which piece of the pie grew more, etc. In other words, you open yourself up to the nonsensical propaganda that Mr. Crowley exists for.

Marc's prior post played right into Mr. Crowley's hands.

Rather than focusing on and pointing out that spending on Teachers has Exceeded the Inflation rate by large amounts (causing it to be UNSUSTAINABLE), Marc wrote "the piece [of the education expenditure pie] that went to the teachers stayed relatively the same".

This tactical error allowed Mr. Crowley to seized upon this statement and declare victory. He's probably at a Union rally right now holding up this quote telling his flock, "see, I told you Teachers were getting screwed and that Teacher Pay was not the problem." Hear the cheers from the crowd of mindless sheep?

You might consider adding a simple 5 column table laying out the Year, Instructional Teacher amount, % year-over-year change, Inflation rate for each year (June to June) and the % over which Teacher Growth execeeded the Inflation rate.

Posted by: George Elbow at January 19, 2009 8:23 AM

"George", Thanks for the advice (really). The point of my earlier post was to try to figure out where the increased expenditures were going. As with many of my posts, I was "thinking aloud" and welcomed input (such as yours). That Pat Crowley is spinning data--and taking it out of context...and parsing a quote--is unsurprising. If I tried to write "scared", so to speak, and avoid putting things our there that could be spun, I may as well stop now. Regardless, I understand YOUR point and that I didn't hit the fact that teacher pay has continued to rise above all else. However, Justin's follow up post has rectified that. Thanks.

Posted by: Marc at January 19, 2009 10:10 AM

The biggest thing that I don't get about teacher contracts are the double raises. Can anyone explain to me why those are in place? Not only do they get a step raise, but the next step is higher than it was the previous year. So it is a double raise for the same thing, longevity. It's like getting a raise from my boss for staying another year and then asking for another raise because I came back for another year. Yeah, it makes about that much sense. Ever notice that 3 year teacher contracts have three different pay schedules, one for each year? Why? Why not just one for all three. Then as teachers rise through the steps, those are their raises, not a raise for the next schedule AND for the next step. Are these school committees really that dumb?

Posted by: pitcher at January 19, 2009 5:54 PM


I've noticed that the terrible "black hole of our tax dollars" has the lowest amount of instructional/teacher dollars per student of any of the districts for which you produced graphs, by a pretty fair margin.

Since you offered, how many were lower than Providence, and which ones are they?

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 19, 2009 6:12 PM


The union argument is that the steps are a deferred salary system. I've actually had unionists explain to me that they were implemented to "help the schools out" — you know, so that the districts don't have to pay teachers step 10 salaries to start.

It's a clever trick, though. During negotiations, the union will point to the most experienced teachers and decry their small raise, the reason for which, obviously, is that in order to give them an increase, the district must ratchet up every step along the way.

At this point, I think the school committees have simply been lulled into "that's the way it works" thinking.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 19, 2009 6:47 PM

>Are these school committees really that dumb?

Crazy like a fox is more like it.

Don't forget that in RI a lot of school committee members are teachers in a neighboring district, spouses of people in the system, or "retired" from the system.

The book / expose on the teachers union ("The Worm in the Apple") mentions that NEA encourages its members to run for school committee.

And this being Rhode Island, the Ethics Commission has ruled that it is not a conflict of interest for a teacher to sit on a school committee, so long as they don't teach in that same town.

The fact that the contract they "negotiate" will later be used as a benchmark for the "negotiations" in the town in which they teach is, well, apparently irrelevant in Rhode Island.

Posted by: Tom W at January 19, 2009 6:47 PM


I did see that, but not knowing the specifics of funding and so on, I didn't want to comment

What I offered was to produce one of these charts for a given town. Your request would require me to sort through all 39 districts. I'll put that in my mental list of things to do, but it's not going to be soon.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 19, 2009 6:52 PM

>>During negotiations, the union will point to the most experienced teachers and decry their small raise, the reason for which, obviously, is that in order to give them an increase, the district must ratchet up every step along the way.>>

What BS (not you Justin). I don't see why the contract can't just have one pay schedule for every year of the deal and then simply say the step 10 teachers will get 3% each year after getting to step 10. Why is that hard to figure out?

Plus, that's more of a raise than I'm getting this year, infinitely more.

Posted by: pitcher at January 19, 2009 9:17 PM

Marc -
Thanks for taking my comments in the vain that they were given. And thanks for doing the analysis and creating the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

Now back to "tactical mistakes". We should NOT fall into the Union trap of referring to Salary increases in two forms ..."a Step Increase" and a "COLA Increase".

That is just another diversion ...we debate Steps vs Colas, etc. as opposed to focusing on the absolute Increase.

The issue is simple. What does the Teacher get paid in year 1 of the contract and what do they get paid in year 2? The difference is the Increase and the question is whether that increase is reasonable and affordable, end of story.

If people want to use a Step structure, then fine. But the increases should be reasonable. However, at present, they squeeze them into 10 short years so that a teacher is earning ~70k (the Private Sector equivalent of ~$103k) after just 9 years on the job.

Most "professionals" who are fortunate enough to be earning 100+k per year don't achieve that level of pay until at least 15 years on the job.

And that is the crux of the problem. We pay first year teachers too little and 9 year teachers too much.

Stretch the Steps out to 15 or more (like most New England states) and that will solve much of the problem.

Of course that would require the GA to repeal that nut-bag Unionist law that Limits the number of Steps to no more than 12.

Posted by: George Elbow at January 19, 2009 10:27 PM

The obsession deepens.

Posted by: Pat Crowley at January 20, 2009 7:07 AM

>>The obsession deepens.
Posted by Pat Crowley at January 20, 2009 7:07 AM >>

Only a moronic megalomaniac can't see the difference between obsession with him and passion about an issue that is driving a state straight down the path of bankruptcy, even when said megalomaniac is the poster boy, the face of the problem. Were we "obsessed" with Ivan Boesky and Leona Helmsley in the early 90's? No. They were the faces of greed and theft on Wall Street. Were we obsesses with Mohammad Atta? No. He was the face of evil and everything that his group stood for and their despicable act.

Same thing. No one is obsessed with you, sir. The minute you are replaced by your gang and the next half-brained mouthpiece takes over your seat and makes similar ill-conceived and poorly thought out statements that can be easily proven to be incorrect, and advocating for the same selfish, greedy positions, that person too will receive the same level of attention that you have received.

So in short, get over yourself. It's not an obsession with you, it's a great dislike for the positions that you espouse.

Posted by: pitcher at January 20, 2009 7:22 AM

Yup. I'm obsessed with the truth, and the more effort you put into obscuring it, the more I'll have to expose your game. People will notice that you have no substantive answer.

Posted by: Justin Katz at January 20, 2009 7:32 AM

"Obsession" is merely his version of trolling, he incites and then enjoys getting a reaction.

Let's stick to serious issues and serious points made by serious and credible people, and keep his posts in their proper perspective - as an entertaining sideshow.

Posted by: Tom W at January 20, 2009 7:53 AM

any chance of getting back to the issue of expenditures on education here?

Posted by: Thomas Schmeling at January 20, 2009 10:03 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.