Teacher benefits are eroding pay

Teacher Benefits Are Eating Away at Salaries, writes Chad Aldeman on The Quick and the Ed.

Public school districts spent less per student in 2010-11 than the year before, the first decline in nearly four decades, the Public Education Finances Report confirms.

The report also shows that “employee benefits continue to take on a rising share of district expenditures,” writes Aldeman. From 2001 to 2011, public education spending increased 49 percent: Salaries went up 37 percent and benefits 88 percent. “Benefits now eat up more than 20 percent of district budgets, or $2,262 per student, and those numbers are climbing,” he writes.

Unfunded pension and health care promises total $1.38 trillion, Pew estimates.

How to stretch the school-district dollar

Stretching the school-district dollar is a must in tough times, writes Fordham’s Michael J. Petrilli in a new policy brief.

“Aim for a leaner, more productive, better paid workforce,” he advises.

In the last two decades, school systems have hired all manner of instructional coaches, teachers’ aides, program administrators, support staff, counselors, psychiatrists, specialists, and so forth. Redefining these roles—and those of classroom teachers—provides great opportunities for increased productivity. None of this is easy, but districts should consider:

Asking classroom teachers to take on additional responsibility in return for greater pay. Can they do without aides? Handle larger classes (or student loads)? Take on mentoring roles along with classroom instruction? Where these additional responsibilities enable the system to operate with fewer staff (even if that means the remaining staff work a longer year), the system can justify higher pay while still realizing savings.

Districts also should rethink special education, Petrilli writes.

For example, if a district uses a “co-teaching” model with regular teacher and a special education teacher in the same classroom—which is hugely expensive—could it try a pull-out approach instead? Or if the best model has these students staying in the classroom, could the extra services be provided over the summer, or after school?

He also suggests a more aggressive salary schedule that lets teachers reach the maximum base pay more quickly, prioritizing salaries over benefits and “thoughtful” integration of technology.

 

$8 billion for ‘community career centers’

President Obama’s budget includes $8 billion for the Community College to Career Fund, which would fund partnerships between local employers and colleges to train 2 million people for high-demand, high-paying jobs. In the State of the Union speech, the president called for colleges to become “community career centers.”  That phrase was repeated by Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday at a press conference, along with several references to America, an economy and a workforce  “built to last.” Must have tested well with focus groups.

A new initiative will help low-income community college students apply for a range of benefits including food stamps, health insurance, subsidized child care, housing vouchers and more. The goal is to increase graduation rates by relieving financial pressures.

Overpaid teachers

Teachers earn similar wages — and much higher benefits — when compared to similarly skilled private-sector workers, concludes a study released in November by Jason Richwine of The Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. Including benefits, teachers make $1.52 for every dollar earned by similarly skilled workers in the private sector.

In a new paper and an Ed Week article, Richwine and Biggs respond to their many critics.

Comparing teachers to private-sector workers with similar levels of education misses the difference in cognitive skills, they argue. The study measured teachers’ reading and math skills on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) and found “teachers are paid commensurately with their cognitive skills.”

Teaching requires “important organizational and interpersonal skills that formal tests may not capture,” they concede.  However, these skills should be valuable in other jobs as well.

If teachers are not fairly paid for their non-cognitive skills, one would expect teachers who shifted to private-sector jobs to receive significant raises. But they do not. Using data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, we are able to track changes in individuals’ salaries as they switch jobs. We have shown that the average public-school teacher suffers a slight wage decrease upon leaving the profession.

Paying all teachers more money won’t improve teacher quality, they argue.

What is needed is a more rational system that pays teachers according to their performance, encouraging the best teachers to stay and the least effective teachers to leave the profession.

Public school administrators rarely have the flexibility to do this, they write.

Study: Public teachers are paid well

Public school teachers are paid as well as similarly skilled private-sector workers but receive much better fringe benefits, concludes a study by Andrew G. Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Jason Richwine, a Heritage Foundation policy analyst.

Public-school teachers earn less than non-teachers with the same level of education, but “teacher skills generally lag behind those of other workers with similar ‘paper’ qualifications,” they write.

Workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent. Teachers who change to non-teaching jobs, on the other hand, see their wages decrease by roughly 3 percent. This is the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.

Public-school teachers contribute less than private-sector workers for generous pensions and retiree health coverage.

Factoring in the value of more generous fringe benefits and greater job security, public teachers receive compensation 52 percent greater than market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion a year, Biggs and Richwine conclude.

Update:  Here’s more on the study, plus a reaction from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who charged the AEI report “uses misleading statistics and questionable research.”

“If teachers are so overpaid, then why aren’t more ’1 percenters’ banging down the doors to enter the teaching profession?” Weingarten asked in the release, referring to higher-income Americans. “Why do 50 percent of teachers leave the profession within three to five years, an attrition rate that costs our school districts $7 billion annually?”

 If teachers earn the same as comparable private-sector workers but eventually qualify for a better pension (and job security tied to seniority), a high attrition rate among new teachers isn’t surprising:  New teachers often get the toughest assignments and the fewest perks.

Benefits vs. jobs

Wisconsin’s controversial law limiting public employees’ bargaining power will enable a district to hire more teachers to cut class sizes, reports the Appleton Post Crescent.

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.

Increased staffing also will make it possible to “identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences,” said the school board president.

Teachers will have less take-home pay, but more teachers will have jobs.

Via Ann Althouse.

Milwaukee Public Schools is laying off 354 teachers. In all, 519 staffers will be laid off and 500 vacancies will not be filled. Class sizes will increase and old textbooks won’t be replaced. If the union agrees to contribute 5.8 percent of wages to retirement benefits, the district can save 198 teachers’ jobs.

Unionizing charter schools

Teachers at two KIPP schools in New York City have voted to unionize, reports the New York Times. KIPP teachers earn more than district teachers but work longer hours. It’s common for teachers to burn out.

Several teachers at the two schools — KIPP Amp, a middle school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and KIPP Infinity, a middle school in Harlem — said the union organizing drive came about because they wanted a stronger voice on the job and because the demands on them were so rigorous. They also said that they wanted to insure a fair discipline and evaluation system.

A union contract will hurt the schools, said Jeanne Allen, executive director of the pro-charter Center for Education Reform.

“As long as you have nonessential rules that have more to do with job operations than with student achievement,” she said, “you are going to have a hard time with accomplishing your mission.”

Not necessarily a problem, writes Eduwonk. After all, Green Dot charters in Los Angeles are unionized (though not affiliated with the AFT or NEA).  KIPP Bronx, a district school conversion, is unionized.

What matters is what’s in the contract not unionization per se.

Allen responds:

What KIPP schools are experiencing is the equivalent of a takeover, even disguised as a restructuring, where management will no longer be able to set the tone or culture of their schools.

Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli also thinks this is a big deal.

Core Knowledge has lots o’ links.

Collective bargaining agreements are more flexible than reformers think, concludes the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which studied Washington, California, and Ohio.

Counting retirement and health benefits, teachers are well compensated, writes Rishawn Biddle in Golden Apples. But many teacher pension and health plans are abysmally managed and underfunded.