As state policy makers weigh their options in response to the “Red for Ed” movement that is organizing the teacher protests, some conservatives and their allies are once again, like a broken record, blaming administration costs as a reason teachers in Arizona have among the worst pay in the nation. It’s just right-wing propaganda. Analysis shows no link between school district administration costs, teacher pay:
A “messaging guide” by the State Policy Network, a network of conservative think tanks, that aims to discredit the nationwide movement to increase teacher pay urges conservatives and anti-union activists to turn the conversation to how “red tape and bureaucracy” and “administrative bloat” suppresses teacher pay.
* * *
But an Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of school district spending data compiled by the Arizona Auditor General’s Office shows no correlation between how much a school district spends on administration and how it pays its teachers.
The Auditor General’s Office in March released its annual report on school district spending in 2017, but for the first time also released raw data along with the report.
It found that, statewide, Arizona school districts in 2017 spent 10.4 percent of operating funds on administration, including superintendents, principals, business managers and other clerical staff. Most districts spent between 10 percent and 16 percent; the national average is 11.2 percent. A few Arizona districts spent around 30 percent, though all of those that spent more than 22 percent of their total budget on administrative costs are what the state calls “very small” districts, each with fewer than 200 students.
The audit determined that instruction spending across all Arizona districts was 53.8 cents of every dollar. Instructional spending includes salaries for teachers, textbooks and general supplies, such as paper and pencils. The national average for 2015, the most recent year data is available from the National Center for Education Statistics, is 60.7.
Most Arizona school districts reported an average teacher salary of $42,300 to $50,000. The median pay is $42,474 for Arizona elementary school teachers and $46,070 for high school teachers, when adjusted for costs of living, according to a 2017 Morrison Institute for Public Policy report. A 20 percent pay raise would bump those medians to $50,969 and $55,284, respectively.
Nationally, median elementary school teacher pay is $55,800 and median high school teacher pay is $58,030, adjusted for costs of living.
In addition to providing raw numbers, the auditors divided school districts into peer groups to better compare districts’ efficiency and effectiveness. Even comparing to peer districts, administrative costs do not correlate with average teacher salaries.
It’s not administrative costs, it’s GOP trickle-down tax cuts for corporations and budget cuts for public education. Paul Krugman of the New York Times writes, We Don’t Need No Education (excerpts):
At the state and local levels, the conservative obsession with tax cuts has forced the G.O.P. into what amounts to a war on education, and in particular a war on schoolteachers. That war is the reason we’ve been seeing teacher strikes in multiple states. And people like Gov. Bevin are having a hard time coming to grips with the reality they’ve created.
To understand how they got to this point, you need to know what government in America does with your tax dollars.
The federal government, as an old line puts it, is basically an insurance company with an army: nondefense spending is dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. State and local governments, however, are basically school districts with police departments. Education accounts for more than half the state and local work force; protective services like police and fire departments account for much of the rest.
So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy.
This promise is, however, never — and I mean never — fulfilled; the right’s continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.
What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can’t do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level — simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.
And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.
How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.
So what conservative state governments have mainly done is squeeze teachers themselves.
Now, teaching kids was never a way to get rich. However, being a schoolteacher used to put you solidly in the middle class, with a decent income and benefits. In much of the country, however, that is no longer true.
At the national level, earnings of public-school teachers have fallen behind inflation since the mid-1990s, and have fallen even more behind the earnings of comparable workers. At this point, teachers earn 23 percent less than other college graduates. But this national average is a bit deceptive: Teacher pay is actually up in some big states like New York and California, but it’s way down in a number of right-leaning states.
Meanwhile, teachers’ benefits are also getting worse. In particular, teachers are having to pay a rising share of their health insurance premiums, a severe burden when their real earnings are declining at the same time.
So we’re left with a nation in which teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs. And they can’t take it anymore.
* * *
One way to think about what’s currently happening in a number of states is that the anti-Obama backlash, combined with the growing tribalism of American politics, delivered a number of state governments into the hands of extreme right-wing ideologues. These ideologues really believed that they could usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia.
Doug Ducey, the ice cream man hired by Koch Industries to run their Southwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Arizona is one of these ideologues. He is a true believer in the false religion of faith-based supply side “trickle down” GOP economics, an economic theory which has been entirely discredited and disproved. When it’s based on blind faith, objective facts do not matter.
Predictably, they couldn’t. For a while they were able to evade some of the consequences of their failure by pushing the costs off onto public sector employees, especially schoolteachers [as Arizona did with a vengeance]. But that strategy has reached its limits. Now what?
Well, some Republicans have actually proved willing to learn from experience, reverse tax cuts and restore education funding. [Not in Arizona.] But all too many are responding the way Gov. Bevin did: Instead of admitting, even implicitly, that they were wrong, they’re lashing out, in increasingly unhinged ways, at the victims of their policies.
Like this lunacy: Ducey: ‘I don’t know why’ teacher walkout happening after pay raise plan, says demand met. No, their demands are not met. Not even close.
UPDATE: For a deeper dive into the right-wing State Policy Network propaganda, see David Safier at the Tucson Weekly‘s The Range blog. Conservatives Told: Keep Criticizing Teachers, But Not About Their Pay or Perks.