Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What Drives R.I. Education Costs?

This is an editorial written by Patrick Crowley. He is an Assistant Executive Director of National Education Association of Rhode Island and a contributing writer for http://www.rifuture.org .He lives in Lincoln. Where the heck is Lincoln? I think it requires crossing bridges.

There is a common misconception that teacher salaries and benefits drive the acceleration of education costs in Rhode Island. This misconception is re-enforced on the airwaves of talk radio and even on the editorial pages of the "Providence Journal." The misconception then gets repeated by politicians who would rather make villains of teachers and their unions than improve education. Business groups then chime in, create so-called “Partnerships” or “Coalitions” designed to appear mainstream but in reality put forward radical anti-teacher proposals intended only to undermine the long established American principal of collective bargaining. It is time for this misconception to be exposed.
Between the years 2000 and 2006, inflation rose by a rate of 19.91% (www.inflationdata.com ). Over the same years, according to the In$ite reports completed by the Rhode Island Department of Education (www.RIDOE.org), Instruction Expenditures, including the costs for instructional teachers, substitutes, instructional paraprofessionals, pupil use technology, and instructional materials and trips, rose by 19.8%.
Yes, you read that right: the cost of teaching has risen slower than overall inflation. Since this line item includes the labor costs of teaching, including wages and benefits, the argument that it is the teachers driving the increase in costs falls apart.
The reality vs. rhetoric comparison is even starker when you consider what percentage of total expenditures teaching actually accounts for. In the 2000-2001 school year, Instruction Expenditures were 57.6% of total expenditures on education in Rhode Island. By the 2005-2006 school year (the last available from RIDOE), Instruction Expenditures had dropped to 52.1% of total expenditures. This is true despite their being no real change in enrollment.
The average salary for a teacher in Rhode Island is $54,730. To hear teacher salaries spoken of in certain circles (like talk radio) you would think that they are all making six figures. The only people in public education in that category are the Superintendents, where the average full time salary in Rhode Island is $129,418 (www.muni-info.ri.gov) and this amount is still less than the regional average. Over the past 10 years, the national average salary for public school teachers increased only 1.3 percent after adjusting for inflation. Here in Rhode Island, teaching salaries have increased only by 1.9% in constant dollars. This ranks us 25th in the nation for the amount of raises for the last ten years.
So if it isn’t teachers and their exorbitant salaries driving the costs, what is to blame? Well, during the same time period, the cost of education, as measured on a per pupil basis, rose 32%; from $9,602 per pupil in 2000 to $12,709 per pupil in 2006. The costs for Principals and Assistant Principals rose 33%; the cost for Superintendents and School Boards rose 30%; transportation was up 31%, building upkeep rose 28% and building operations rose 42%. All of these areas are outside of collective bargaining, and thus beyond scope of teachers and their unions.
So why do the teachers get blamed for increases that are beyond their control? The enemies of public education always need a bogeyman. Since the early 80’s, their favorite enemy has been teachers and their unions. Despite the decades long attack, the facts have never supported their belief that teachers are underworked and overpaid. In fact, the research shows the opposite. Nobody enters the teaching profession thinking they are going to get rich – the personal satisfaction that comes from teaching is more important than the financial reward. But that doesn’t mean teachers will work for free and it doesn’t mean people with a political axe to grind should get away with distortions of the facts to at the expense of the people who are preparing the next generation of Rhode Islanders and Americans.
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