California school spending grows at fastest pace in the U.S.

School union protestFew monetary issues draw more emotion or scrutiny than the ups and downs of government’s educational expenses.

This year, the heated “invest in our kids” debate has rattled state capitols across the nation as teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona walked out of classrooms and headed to picket lines and rallies to protest low wages.

All this labor turmoil comes as California schools have been enjoying nation-leading increases in “elementary/secondary” educational spending, according to new Census Bureau data.

This report by a relatively independent arbiter — covering up to 2016 spending patterns nationwide — gives a glimpse into how California public school budgets compare with nationwide trends. It tallies taxpayer funds going to everything from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and includes charter schools if they’re school-district-funded. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Unions defend recent strikes — but voters should make up their own minds

Teachers unionIn a USA Today op-ed last month, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten defended the teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado, by sketching a familiar hero-villain scenario. “Teachers are standing up for their students and themselves against largely red states with weak labor laws and where governors and legislators have opted for tax cuts for the wealthy instead of investments for children,” she wrote. Pointing to the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case, which she portrayed as a right-wing ploy to “get public sector unions out of politics,” Weingarten proclaimed, “Teachers’ voices — and their votes — are powerful, and educators have parents and communities supporting them.”

Some voters may be persuaded by the argument that teachers are picketing for more money “for children,” but they would be better off looking at some basic facts. While teachers in some cases are underpaid and certain school districts underfunded, teachers on the whole, according to researcher James Agresti, get paid much better than commonly acknowledged. For the 2016–2017 school year, the average salary of full-time public school teachers was $58,950. That figure excludes benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and pensions, which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, make up an average of 33 percent of total compensation for public school teachers. When benefits get added in, teachers’ average annual compensation jumps to $87,854. And even that amount doesn’t include unfunded pension liabilities and certain post-employment benefits like health insurance, not measured by the Labor Department. Private-industry employees work an average of 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, including the time that teachers spend for lesson preparation, grading, and other activities. “Unlike less rigorous studies, this data from the DOL is based on detailed records of work hours instead of subjective estimates about how long people think they work,” Agresti adds.

Teachers aren’t just well compensated; they’re also more numerous than ever before, especially in proportion to their students. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times faster than the number of students, and hiring of other education employees—administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers—rose more than seven times faster than the increase in students. Despite the staffing surge, students’ academic achievement has stagnated or fallen during that time. Scafidi suggests that, had non-teaching personnel growth been in line with student population growth, and the teaching force risen “only” 1.5 times as fast as student growth, U.S. schools would have had an additional $37.2 billion to spend annually. With that windfall, he suggests, we could have raised every public school teacher’s salary by more than $11,700 per year, given poor families more than $2,600 in cash per child to attend private schools of their parents’ choice, and more than doubled taxpayer funding for early-childhood education.

It’s no secret that lavish teacher pensions are eating up money that should be spent on students. Robert Costrell, a finance expert at the University of Arkansas, found that 10.6 percent of all education spending goes toward teacher-retirement benefits—more than double the proportion spent on pensions in 2004. “As a percentage of their total compensation package, teacher retirement benefits eat up twice as much as other workers,” Bellwether Education Partners policy analyst Chad Alderman explains. Teachers—including bad teachers—have a powerful incentive to stay on in their jobs, since they automatically earn more just by showing up each fall, regardless of how effective they are. Pension benefits start accruing later in a teacher’s career, so younger teachers are helping to prop up pensions for lifers, with little to show for it; if a teacher leaves the field early, he gets no pension at all.

States typically administer teacher pensions, but health-care benefits frequently vary according to the local school district. While some districts cut teachers’ health benefits off when Medicare kicks in, others, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, are much more generous. LAUSD provides the same expansive health coverage for retirees (and their spouses) as it does for current employees; neither group pays a premium for its insurance. The district recently announced that the unfunded liability for retiree health benefits has risen to $15.2 billion, up from a reported $13.5 billion in 2016, which translates to a cost of $525 per student.

Come November, the teachers’ unions and their unhappy members will be taking their case to the voters. Taxpayers need to look at the facts underneath the teachers-as-victims rhetoric and vote for fiscal sanity.

The CTA’s ongoing charter school whoppers

Charter schoolWashington Post writer Jay Mathews is “woke” to the fact that the California Teachers Association lies.

Jay Mathews has been around the block a few times. He has been with the Washington Post since 1971, and for many of those years he has written about education issues, often arguing for sensible reforms. Which is why I was stunned to see a Mathews’ headline last week which read, “Maybe this teachers union needs a crash course in truth in advertising.” Seems that the venerable scribe was perplexed and angered by a radio spot run by the California Teachers Association in which the union does its usual – lies, exaggerates, builds strawmen and tries to elicit gasps out of everyone within earshot.

The basic premise of the ad is that evil right wingers Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos and the Koch Brothers see your seven year-old as a cash cow and want her to go to “their corporate charter schools” to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

CTA business as usual here, but if Jay Mathews is now woke, I guess that’s a good thing.

Mathews also may have gotten a jolt if he saw a recent post on the CTA website in which the union informs us that Tony Thurmond, their candidate for California Superintendent of Public Instruction, will be holding a tele-town hall on May 9th. Alluding to Thurmond’s opponent Marshall Tuck, CTA claims “… corporate billionaires are pouring millionsinto the races of candidates who share their agenda to divert funding away from neighborhood public schools to privately-run charter schools.” In fact, Tuck is adamantly opposed to privately run charters and has stated so many times, claiming, “Profit has no place in our public schools….”

If he hasn’t already done so, I would advise Mr. Mathews to visit a website established by CTA in 2016 called Kids Not Profits. In addition to the exaggeration about the privatization of charters (less than 3 percent in California are), it includes the time-worn fantasy that charters “cherry-pick their students” and weed out students with special needs.

In fact, as R Street Institute’s Steven Greenhut writes, the opposite is true. Using information from a report by ProPublica, an organization whose focus is investigative journalism, Greenhut found a national pattern in which public school districts have used alternative schools, including charters,  as a “a silent release valve for high schools … that are straining under the pressure of accountability reform.” These public schools dump off weak students “whose test scores, truancy and risk of dropping out threaten their standing.”

So just who are the cherry pickers?

Also, parents who have kids with special needs are prone to send their kids to charters. For example, the mother of a child in Florida, who has “oral motor delays, including extreme feeding difficulties” could not find a traditional public school (TPS) that could accommodate her daughter and found a charter school that could.

Looking at the bigger picture, there have been a gaggle of studies comparing student achievement in charters and TPS. Most studies give the edge to charters to varying degrees. But even if charters do the same job as TPS, charters should be deemed preferable as they do it by receiving, on average, 28 percent less funding than TPS.

Additionally, a revealing new study conducted by Patrick Wolf, Corey De Angeles, et al shows that in eight big American cities, each dollar invested in a child’s k-12 schooling results in $6.44 in lifetime earnings in public charter schools compared to just $4.67 in lifetime earnings in TPS.

That traditional public schools dump kids into charters, frequently can’t handle kids with special needs and don’t give students the same bang for the buck as charters are realities that CTA and other teachers unions either omit or lie about when they push their anti-charter agenda.

One other tidbit not discussed by CTA is that charters are less likely to be unionized than they were six years ago. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that 11.3 percent of the nation’s charters in the 2016–17 school year were unionized, down from 12.3 percent in 2009–10.

That Jay Mathews has awakened to the prevalent dishonesty of the teachers unions is encouraging. As we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, I only hope more mainstream media writers follow suit and aggressively expose teacher union mendacity.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center.

School Spending Up; Student Performance Down

School educationCalifornia school boards are prevented by the state Legislature and governor from offering disproportionate pay to employees willing to work in high-poverty zones, cutting pension spending, altering tenure rules or granting principals the power to fire poorly performing employees. The outcome: poor student performance and shaky finances despite a big increase in spending.

All it takes is 62 legislators and the governor to change that outcome. Every legislator knows that school districts should not be forced to grant permanent employment after just 24 months or to divert money from current to retired teachers and should be permitted to pay more to teachers who take on tougher assignments and to fire under-performers.

The only thing stopping them is fear. They are afraid of CTA, the largest commercial and political special interest roaming the halls of the State Capitol. But don’t blame CTA. Its members collect ~$70 billion per year from taxpayers. You too would roam the Capitol if you collected that kind of money from legislators. Blame legislators and governors who don’t have the courage to attack the real causes of school distress. It is they who are letting down students — especially our most vulnerable students. Just look at what’s happening in San Francisco and around the state.

But the legislature and governor don’t get all the blame. Believe it or not, some districts subsidize retirees at the expense of current employees. San Francisco could pay teachers an extra $40 million this year if it stopped subsidizing health insurance for retirees who, like their fellow Californians, could obtain health insurance on the state’s excellent Obamacare exchange (Covered California) until they become eligible for Medicare. The city of Glendale shows how. The San Francisco school board doesn’t need permission from the state to make that change right now. But instead, it is asking voters to approve an additional tax on property. Middle class residents already find it tough going in San FranciscoNow the school board wants to make it even harder  in order to subsidize retirees. Fixing that doesn’t take rocket science. It just takes courage.

ecturer and research scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Has landmark 2013 school finance law produced poor test scores?

shocked-kid-apFive years after Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature passed a sweeping new school finance law meant to provide extra help to struggling students in poor, minority communities, new federal test scores raise difficult questions about the effectiveness of the 2013 measure.

Every two years, at the order of the federal government, the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests are administered to check on fourth- and eighth-graders’ progress in math and reading in all 50 states. While eighth-graders showed gains on reading, California’s overall scores for 2017 released earlier this month remained on average among the worst in the nation, as the EdSource website reported.

But a deeper dive into the data showed that California fourth-graders scored worse on math than any state but Alaska. Poor scores by African-American students caught the eye of Ryan Smith, executive director of the Education-Trust West. “At a time when California is claiming to lead on issues of what’s right in our country, we should see black students improve at far greater rates, not sliding back decades,” he told EdSource.

What made the results particularly disappointing were the high expectations that had accompanied the enactment in 2013 of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) – arguably the biggest change in California public education since Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature approved the hiring of thousands of new teachers in 1996 as part of an ambitious effort to reduce the number of students in first-, second- and third-grade classes to no more than 20 per teacher.

Brown led the push for LCFF, calling it a commitment to social justice and education equity. The measure guaranteed additional funding to districts with high concentrations of English-language learners, impoverished families and foster children. The law’s second main component also eliminated most of the top-down funding edicts imposed on school districts.

Brown argued that local districts had a better grasp on what their students’ needs were than state lawmakers and Sacramento bureaucrats, and that LCFF would give local schools extra resources that would allow them to improve education outcomes for struggling students.

Claims that funds were diverted came early and often

But even before this month’s disappointing test scores, the Local Control program had drawn fire. In January 2015, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said none of the 50 school districts it reviewed had set up adequate standards to make sure the funds were used as they were supposed to be. Soon after, Education Trust-West and other groups which advocate for poor and minority students said funds meant to specifically help these students were instead used for overall district spending, starting with teacher raises.

Brown supported state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson after he formally rejected the criticism – with both saying, in effect, that local control meant local control. Efforts in recent years by lawmakers to force a stricter accounting of LCFF dollars have been blocked by teachers union allies in the Legislature, notably Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, the Long Beach Democrat who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. In 2016, the governor vetoed an LCFF accountability measures that managed to win the Legislature’s unanimous approval.

But in January, in presenting his final budget before being termed out, Brown offered an indirect concession to those upset with how LCFF dollars had been used.

“While many districts have seized the opportunities offered under the formula to better serve their students, others have been slower to make changes,” his 2018-19 spending plan noted. “To improve student achievement and transparency, the budget proposes requiring school districts to create a link between their local accountability plans and their budgets to show how increased funding is being spent to support English learners, students from low-income families, and youth in foster care.”

This story was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California school superintendent race: Democratic reformer vs. union ally

Marshall TuckThe 2018 race for state superintendent of public instruction may not have an incumbent but is likely to feel like an encore of the 2014 race, pitting a Democrat aligned with the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers against a Democrat who backs reforms opposed by the unions.

In 2014, Tom Torlakson – a former teacher and state lawmaker – won a second term, touting higher graduation rates and somewhat better test scores. He defeated former Los Angeles charter school executive Marshall Tuck 52 percent to 48 percent in a race in which $30 million was reportedly spent, triple the campaign spending in that year’s quiet governor’s race.

With the strong support of wealthy Los Angeles area Democrats who have been fighting for changes in L.A. Unified and who remember the job he did running Green Dot charters, Tuck is running again.

Subbing for termed-out Torlakson is Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who has worked closely with teachers unions on many fronts – most notably joining in maneuvering last summer that helped kill a tenure reform bill that had gotten off to a strong start in the Legislature. He has also opposed efforts to more closely monitor how education dollars are being spent under the Local Control Funding Formula. The law was supposed to be used specifically to help districts with high numbers of English language learners, students in foster care and students from impoverished families to improve their academic performance. But civil rights groups say the extra dollars often have been used for general spending, including for teacher raises.

Thurmond was also among lawmakers who expressed interest in helping teachers deal with California’s high housing costs, proposing legislation to award $100 million in rental grants to teachers in need. It didn’t advance.

Tuck may have better shot than when he challenged incumbent

The conventional wisdom is that Tuck has a better chance than in 2014 because Thurmond has much lower name recognition than Torlakson. But that could be erased with a heavy television ad run by the teachers unions using the same anti-Tuck themes as in 2014: Making the argument that the charter schools he led are part of a corporate scheme to take over public education.

If Tuck, 44, gets his way, the debate will focus on his reform agenda – the idea that charters serve as healthy competition for regular schools; the need for much better oversight of how the Local Control Funding Formula is used; adopting teacher tenure reform; and accountability standards that make it easier to judge whether a school is improving.

Thurmond’s website emphasizes his view of California educators doing battle with President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over what he describes as their intent to “gut” and “defund our public schools.” Thurmond, 49, a military veteran who was a social worker before running for office, also said teachers need “bonuses and other incentives” to address the shortage of qualified instructors.

Complicating the Tuck-Thurmond race is the likelihood that for the first time in the 21st century, a prominent Democratic gubernatorial candidate is running as an anti-union reformer – which could make schools a more prominent issue in the 2018 election cycle than is normal.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who repeatedly tangled with the United Teachers Los Angeles while seeking authority over L.A. Unified, has already won the endorsement of the state Democratic lawmaker recognized as the leader of education reform efforts: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego.

The CTA endorsed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the governor’s race and Thurmond for superintendent in October. The CFT did as well in December.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Obscure the Declining Performance of California Public Schools

School union protestEducational bureaucrats complain that charter and private schools are “unaccountable.” But in reality, no institution in America is less accountable than unionized, government-run school systems. Virtually no one gets fired when they do a poor job, and when Johnny can’t read, it’s not because he wasn’t taught well, but rather because funding was insufficient, class sizes were too big, poverty was overwhelming — or Betsy DeVos was making everything worse. And when the public schools are shown not to be living up to their promises, the educrats move the goalposts to disguise their shortcomings.

The latest example of this pattern is unfolding right now. The California School Dashboard is a comprehensive rating tool to assess educational performance. Schools, districts, and various student subgroups get placed into five color-coded categories ranging from red (bottom performers) to blue (best performers) on how students fare on the state’s annual standardized test, along with other measures including graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and college readiness. If a district places in the red on two or more of these metrics, the county offices of education are called in for assistance.

Alarm bells sounded when the 2017 standardized test results in California were announced. They revealed that about 50 percent of schoolchildren can’t read at grade level. The news was especially dismal for black schoolchildren — almost 70 percent failed to read at grade level. When all the data were crunched, the outcomes revealed that, because of the poor test results, many school districts were deep in the red zone. But instead of acknowledging those schools’ failure, the State Board of Education simply decided to move a bunch of schools out of the lowest category. The board brushed aside criticism, referring to the lowering of standards as “a technical matter,” and the change was approved unanimously.

This brazen ploy is the latest in a series of similar efforts by the Golden State education establishment. Just last month, we officially said goodbye to the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which the state legislature eliminated in 2015 because too many kids couldn’t pass it. The English-language component of the test addressed state content standards through tenth grade, and the math part of the exam covered state standards only as far as grades six and seven and Algebra I. Worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively, going back to 2006, to students who had passed their coursework but failed the test.

Some cities have used their own methods to lower standards. In 2015, the Los Angeles school board decided to roll back graduation requirements, allowing students to pass A-G courses (classes that are required for college entrance) with a “D” instead of a “C.” If that wasn’t enough, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, students who are destined not to graduate high school get to take “credit-recovery” classes. Some are effective, but many are devoid of meaningful content. Students often complete them in a few hours or over a weekend. Due to the courses, the graduation rate in L.A. zoomed from a projected 54 percent to 77 percent in 2016 within a few months. Referring to the higher graduation rates, L.A. School Superintendent Michelle King had the chutzpah to proclaim that she is proud “of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day.” King’s comments aside, is it any wonder that three quarters of California community college students and over 40 percent of California State university system students need remediation?

In San Francisco, only 19 percent of black students passed the state test in reading, yet the school board and union colluded to give teachers in the lowest performing school district in the state a 16 percent across the board pay increase. In a statement, San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Vincent Matthews said that the agreement was made as part of the district’s “ongoing commitment to attracting and retaining talented educators.

While San Francisco undoubtedly has some wonderful teachers, they do not deserve a raise en masse. We do not need credit-recovery classes. We should not have eliminated the CAHSEE. We don’t need the state board fiddling with the new dashboard because the results were poor. And as the Freedom Project’s Alex Newman points out, we also don’t need more “tax money, smaller class sizes, more LGBT sensitivity training, more interventions, more amphetamines, more dumbed-down ‘standards,’ or bigger government.”

What kids really need is basic reading instruction with a strong emphasis on phonics, which has served kids well for generations and would continue to do so, if we let it. But if we continue to stroll blissfully down Unaccountability Lane, adopting educational fads and eliminating standards, millions of young Americans will grow up to be functionally illiterate, with dismal future prospects. This is beyond shameful. School boards, administrators, and teachers must be held accountable for the failing systems they run.

Government Unions Wage War on Meritocracy

How can you persuasively counter arguments for diversity quotas, when implacable fanatics purporting to represent every identifiable group whose aggregate achievements fall short of the mean will argue it is discrimination, not merit, that determine outcomes? Expect no help from government unions. Resentment gives them passion, restitution gives them power. Undermining the meritocracy is key to their survival.

Imagine a public school system where the excellence of teachers was the only institutional criteria for their job security and prospects for career advancement. Imagine government bureaucracies where innovative, more effective practices were adopted even if it meant smaller budgets and fewer employees. Imagine law enforcement agencies that had zero tolerance for officers that abused their authority. Are we there yet? Not if government unions have anything to say about it.

But the government union war on the meritocracy goes well beyond protecting bad employees. Government unions representing K-12 teachers and college faculty have been overran by “social justice warriors” who preach identity politics as the new religious gospel and the new academic canon. They have taken their war on the meritocracy into the classrooms and lecture halls, saturating the curricula from kindergarten to graduate school. Their message? Unless you are a heterosexual white male, you are a victim of discrimination by heterosexual white males. You live in an unjust society. Merit, according to this doctrine, is a smokescreen. It is discrimination in disguise.

What do you do if you believe in meritocracy? What do you do about this?

CPC-government-unions-merit-SAT-e

If you want to earn more money in a merit-based, productive market economy, quantitative reasoning skills are required. The more of these skills you’ve got, the more money you’ll earn. So what happens when you have far, far higher percentages of highly qualified individuals in some groups than in other groups?

When it comes to college admissions and college curricula, the solution of the social justice warriors, and the faculty unions who nurture them, is many faceted. Here are some of their mitigating strategies:

  • Invent “holistic” admission criteria that diminishes the importance of quantitative aptitude.
  • Concoct theories of cognition that claim math itself is an arbitrary and subjective expression of white power (yes, this really happened).
  • Create entire college departments that are academically weak but instead offer separatist political indoctrination.
  • Blame most if not all of the gap in aptitude on systemic discrimination by the “white patriarchy.”
  • Demand race-driven quotas of ever-expanding scope; in hiring, promotions, housing, wealth, political office, whatever.

The problem with these solutions, if you want to call them that, are their actual consequences. In pursuit of quota driven diversity, colleges are turning away qualified applicants at the same time as colleges are failing to produce anywhere near the number of STEM graduates that American industry demands. Meanwhile, the students that are waved in despite being marginally qualified to pursue higher education are being trained to ascribe any failures they may encounter to racism, and any successes they may encounter to fortuitous state intervention. And not least, there is the consequence of bitterness and cynicism being bred into the psyche of all those more qualified students and future employees who are passed over in favor of meeting diversity quotas.

How does one challenge the doctrine of equality over merit? How do you challenge allegations of systemic racism? How do you do it persuasively, with hard facts, but also with compassion and empathy? It’s not easy. College youth need passion, they need a cause, they need clarifying polarities. The teachers unions offer them a good one: A rich and wealthy white patriarchy that has exploited people of color for centuries, one that must be resisted, uprooted, and replaced.

Tough love arguments should be part of any campaign of persuasion. Reality therapy. Why are people with lower test scores admitted to college if they’re being discriminated against? That’s ridiculous. And why do they think taking classes that replace difficult coursework with political indoctrination – fomenting resentment and advocating separatism – are going to give them marketable skills? Do they really believe they need on-campus “cultural safe spaces”? Aren’t those just a 21st century version of Jim Crow laws? Where does this end? And why do Asians perform so well on college aptitude tests? Why are Asians so successful economically? Aren’t they also “people of color”? Could it be because they study so diligently, and that a meritocracy is colorblind?

Along with tough love, opponents of quotas should offer understanding. It is our individuality that defines our abilities and challenges much more than the groups we’re a part of. All ethnic groups are collections of individuals with infinite diversity; short and tall, thin and obese, weak and strong, plain and beautiful, slow and smart, timid and assertive, surly and charming, lucky and unlucky, good and bad. As individuals we succeed and we fail. We endure crushing disappointments and spectacular success. Life is not always easy or fair – for anyone. We are joined by our common humanity, no matter what color we are. And nothing overcomes prejudice, should it ever exist, better than a smile.

Despite occasional rhetorical acknowledgments, government unions don’t like the message of individual accountability. But that is the message that must prevail, if we are to avoid the tyranny of quota-driven equality of outcome.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center

REFERENCES

Race gaps in SAT math scores are as big as ever – Brookings Institution (source for chart)
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2017/02/01/race-gaps-in-sat-math-scores-are-as-big-as-ever/

CA Should Raise Teacher Pay By Reducing Unfunded Retirement Liabilities

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsFast-rising spending on pensions and other retirement costs is crushing teacher staffing and pay in California. As an example, retirement spending at San Francisco Unified School District grew 3x faster than district revenues over the last five years, absorbing $35 million that could have gone to current teachers. Worse, that happened despite record stock market gains and school revenues. Absent reform, teacher staffing and pay will decline further.

Something must be done. Public school students and teachers deserve fully-staffed classrooms and sufficient salaries. While the children of well-to-do parents can attend private schools or privately-subsidized public schools, most of California’s six million K-12 students cannot.

Someone must step up. Potential candidates fall into five categories: (i) the people who created the problem, (ii) taxpayers, (iii) students, (iv) current teachers, and (v) pension beneficiaries.

  • Self-serving pension fund board members and elected officials blocked honest pre-funding of retirement promises, causing today’s unfunded liabilities. While it would be wonderful justice if they could be forced to pay for the problem they created, at nearly $100 billion and growing the problem is too big for their resources.
  • Taxpayers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it. Income taxes were raised 30 percent in 2012 and school revenues are up 60 percent since then but pension spending in districts like SFUSD grew more than 100 percent over that same period and are heading higher.
  • Students and current teachers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it in the forms of understaffed classrooms and inadequate salaries, especially in school districts without well-to-do parents to subsidize school budgetsIt’s no wonder poor and minority students in California perform worse than their counterparts in Texas, which spends less per student but has a better student-teacher ratio.
  • Pension beneficiaries didn’t cause the problem but unlike students, teachers and taxpayers they have NOT been paying for it. In fact, they garnered additional financial benefits from the actions that created the problem, as explained here. They need to step up.

Reducing unfunded obligations would free up billions for current teachers.

Shrinking unfunded retirement obligations by reducing un-earned future benefits would allow school districts to divert fewer dollars to retirement costs. For example, Rhode Island suspended annual increases until pension funds are better funded and moved some to-be-earned benefits to hybrid plans. Acting similarly in California could free up billions with which to boost current teacher staffing and pay. Such sacrifices by beneficiaries would be no greater than those of students, teachers and taxpayers and beneficiary retirement benefits would still be greater than those of the vast majority of their fellow citizens.

No one can be happy about making any innocent person sacrifice to meet unfunded liabilities created by corrupt pension fund board members and elected officials. But students need fully staffed classrooms and teachers need adequate salaries. Everyone needs to chip in to reach those goals.

One cannot both be progressive and be opposed to pension reform.

Unfunded retirement obligations are crushing the hopes and dreams of California’s public school students and teachers. Policymakers need to act.

NB: A different set of unfunded liabilities is crushing higher education. The University of California is losing $600 million this year compared to what it would’ve received had it simply maintained the same share of the state budget as it garnered a decade ago. Retirement beneficiaries didn’t cause that problem either but only they have avoided the consequences as taxpayers are paying more and citizens are receiving less. The state needs to reduce its unfunded liabilities. Beneficiaries must chip in there too.

ecturer and research scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

The Teacher-Shortage Myth

School-education-learning-1750587-hA nationwide shortage of teachers threatens quality education, according to the education establishment and its advocates in the media. But as with the population bomb, Y2K, and the devils of Loudon, the reality of the supposed crisis is quite different from its representation. A look at the data puts the situation into perspective.

The shortage claim has been around for some time. The National Education Association warned in 1921 that there was “an appalling lack of trained teachers throughout the country.” At the time, we had a student-to-teacher ratio of 33 to 1; we have more than halved the ratio in less than 100 years. The late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson gave us a more up-to-date perspective in 2015, explaining that since 1970 “the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent.”

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education states that our teaching force is still growing proportionate to the student population. In fact, we now have over 3.8 million public school teachers in the U.S., an increase of 13 percent in the last four years. During that same time period, student enrollment rose just 2 percent. Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, adds that, between 2008 and 2016, student enrollment was flat but the teaching force expanded from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million, a rise of 12.4 percent. University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard Ingersoll avers that not only is there no shortage of teachers, there is actually a glut. Ingersoll, who has long studied teacher-staffing trends, says the growth in the teaching force, which goes well beyond student growth, is financially a “ticking time bomb.” He adds that the “main budget item in any school district is teacher’s salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”

And it’s not only the teaching force that’s ballooning: the number of other school personnel has been expanding at an alarming pace as well. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times as fast as the uptick in students. But even more outrageous is the fact that other education employees—administrators, aides, counselors, social workers— rose more than seven times the increase in students. Despite all this new staff, student academic achievement has stagnated—or even declined—over the past several decades.

The myth that America suffers a scarcity of teachers is promulgated by the teachers’ unions and their supporters in the education establishment. On the California Teachers Association website, we read that “California will need an additional 100,000 teachers over the next decade.” But this statistic simply means that CTA expects about a 2.8 percent yearly attrition rate, and will need to hire 10,000 teachers per annum over a ten-year period to maintain current staffing levels—more of an actuarial projection than an alarming call for action. (The union adds that California must hire even more teachers to “reduce class size so teachers can devote more time to each student.” The claim that small class size benefits all students—another union promulgated myth—means more teachers, which translates to more dues money for the union.) In reality, California is following the national trend in overstaffing. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California had 332,640 teachers in 2010. By 2015, there were 352,000. But the student population has been virtually flat, moving from 6.22 million in 2010 to 6.23 million in 2016.

True, legitimate general shortages exist in some school districts, while other districts may lack teachers in certain areas of expertise, like science and technology. Workers in these fields can earn higher salaries in the private sector; one solution would be to pay experts in these subjects more than other teachers as a way to lure them into teaching. Unfortunately, that’s not possible: throughout much of the country, and certainly in California, salaries are rigorously defined by a teacher union-orchestrated step-and-column pay regimen, which allows no room for flexibility in teacher salaries.

What’s necessary is to break up the unaccountable Big Government-Big Union education duopoly. More school choice, from privatization to charter schools, could go a long way toward solving the teacher glut. The government-education complex will always try to squeeze more money from the taxpayers, irrespective of student enrollment. Its greed has nothing to do with teacher shortages, small class sizes, educational equity, or any other rationale it can come up with: paramount to the interest of the educational bureaucracy is more jobs for administrators, and more dues money for the unions, which they use to buy and hold sway over school boards and legislators. While there is a surfeit of teachers and administrative staff, clarity and transparency regarding the reality of union control of the schools are scarce indeed.