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Tennessee taxpayers lost $1.4 billion in excessive public school costs

By   /   October 26, 2012  /   News  /   Comments Off on Tennessee taxpayers lost $1.4 billion in excessive public school costs


Tennessee taxpayers would have saved $1.4 billion if public school officials throughout the state had made the number of new school employees more proportional to the number of new students.

Instead, those officials hired more employees than their school districts needed. Employees who were possibly lacking in talent were among those new hires.

In essence, school officials lost taxpayer money by focusing on the quantity of teachers instead of the quality, according to new findings from the Friedman Foundation.

The Foundation released the report, “The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools” this week. Based in Indiana, the Foundation advocates for school choice nationwide.

Benjamin Scafidi, the author of the report, did not focus his study solely on Tennessee. Instead, he focused on all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Scafidi, a professor of economics at Georgia College and State University, provided more specific information about his findings in Tennessee to Tennessee Watchdog, including information not published in his report.

According to a new report, Tennessee taxpayers lost $1.4 billion between 1992 and 2009 because education officials focused more on quantity, and not quality, of teachers (photo courtesy of Kean.edu)

“Tennessee had a much higher growth rate in public school employment relative to the national average,” he said.

Nationwide, for instance, public school officials hired 39 percent more full-time school personnel between 1992 and 2009, while the number of students increased by 17 percent.

During the same time period, in contrast, the number of K-12 public school personnel in Tennessee increased by 50 percent, or 11 percentage points higher than the national average. New students in the state increased by a much lower 17 percent.

Tennessee officials could have used their extra $1.4 billion to give existing teachers a $26,700 pay raise, assuming ratios of new school personnel were more in balance with the number of new students, Scafidi said.

“They also could have used that money to offer families in Tennessee scholarships to send their children to the private school of their choice. Also, with that money, taxes could have been reduced. Fiscal stress on state and local governments could have been lessened. Or, that money could have gone to some other worthy purpose,” Scafidi said.

Tennessee Watchdog made attempts to contact officials at school districts in Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Shelby counties, but those officials did not return those requests. Tennessee Department of Education officials also did not comment.

In a statement, Foundation President Robert Enlow said school officials nationwide are wasting billions of taxpayer dollars to hire school personnel and the results are lacking.


“If non-teaching personnel had grown at the same rate as the growth in students and if the teaching force had grown only 1.5 times as fast as the growth in students, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year,” Scafidi wrote in his report, after compiling statistics from the U.S. Department of Education.

Staffing numbers rose dramatically in America’s public schools, yet graduation rates did not.

“After the sizeable increase in the teaching force and the dramatic upsurge in the hiring of non-teaching personnel, student achievement in American public schools has been roughly flat or modestly in decline,” according to the study.

Scafidi posed two questions: (1) Should public school staffing increase forever? and (2) Is it a wise investment to add teachers and non-teaching staff at rates higher than increases in students?

Additionally, Scafidi addresses whether class-size reductions in many schools are even necessary, provided existing teachers are qualified and talented enough to teach, including larger classes.

“Trade-offs between quantity and quality exist in many realms of life, including class-size reduction. If public schools across a state or the entire nation implement class-size reductions, they have to hire thousands of more teachers. As public schools do so, they may fill classrooms with any warm bodies they can find.”

Furthermore, state governments and local public school boards should have devoted more of their energies to improving teacher effectiveness and not lowering class sizes.

“Historical evidence suggests less is more when it comes to public school staffing. If that conclusion is wrong, why did student achievement in public schools not improve with dramatically lowered class sizes and increased non-teaching staff in recent decades?”

Christopher Butler is the editor of Tennessee Watchdog and the Director of Government Accountability for the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Contact him at chris@beacontn.org

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 • Students: 17 percent

• Total School Personnel: 50 percent

• Teachers: 51 percent

• Administrators and other staff: 49 percent



  • “Between fiscal year (FY) 1950 and FY 2009, the number of K-12 public school students in the United States increased by 96 percent while the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew 386 percent. Public schools grew staffing at a rate four times faster than the increase in students over that time period. Of those personnel, teachers’ numbers increased 252 percent while administrators and other staff experienced growth of 702 percent, more than seven times the increase in students.”
  • “Compared to other nations’ schools, U.S. public schools devote significantly higher fractions of their operating budgets to non-teaching personnel—and lower portions to teachers.”
  • “Between Fiscal Year 2002 to FY 2009,  48 states grew total school personnel at a faster rate than their increase in students — or decreased school personnel at a slower rate than their declines in students. Forty-six states increased teachers and 48 states grew non-teaching personnel at faster rates than their uptick in students.”
  • “Rhode Island led the nation with growth among teachers at 16.6 percent while its student population increased only 2.2 percent.”
  • “A large body of research finds dramatic differences in effectiveness between high-performing and low- performing teachers. Given that class-size reductions force public schools to hire more low-performing teachers, funds spent on class-size reduction and administration would seem better allocated toward higher salaries for great teachers—if one wanted to keep those taxpayer funds in the public education system.”