The hiring of K-12 public school staff far outpaced the increase in U.S. public school student enrollment between 1950 and 2009, according to a new report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
Using data from the U.S. Department of Education, study author Benjamin Scafidi found that while student enrollment essentially doubled during that period, the number of public school teachers grew 252 percent and administrators and other nonteaching staff (such as guidance counselors and school nurses) grew by 702 percent.
"This massive employment growth has not improved student achievement as measured by public high school graduation rates and [standardized] test scores," Scafidi says. "If you're spending a lot of taxpayer funds on something that doesn't benefit students, we can reallocate those funds in a way that's more beneficial to students and the economy."
Scafidi estimates that had nonteaching staff grown at a rate similar to student enrollment and teaching staff hiring increased at a rate 1½ times student enrollment, American public schools would have saved $37.2 billion annually — enough to raise teacher salaries by more than $11,000 a year or provide school vouchers for up to $2,600 per each child in poverty.
While some have argued that the teacher and staff hiring boom coincided with the implementation of No Child Left Behind during the early 2000s, Scafidi says this trend started much earlier. In the 10 years preceding NCLB, public school population grew 13 percent while school staff grew 29 percent (23 percent increase in teachers, 37 percent increase in nonteacher staff).
After NCLB was implemented, both teachers and nonteachers were hired at about the same rate, but still at a rate double that of the student population increase.
Requests for comment from three educational employee unions were not immediately returned, but the American Federation of Teachers says that "every child needs a school nurse" and the National Education Association website notes that "educational support professionals keep school buildings and equipment functioning and students safe and healthy."
"Support professionals are woefully underpaid, often barely able to afford to live in the communities where they serve," the NEA's website says. NEA officials declined to comment for this story.
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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.