Education Employment Grows by Leaps and Bounds

Member Group : Allegheny Institute

School districts around the region and across the Commonwealth are grappling with the realities of the coming fiscal year and exploring methods of cost-savings and revenue enhancements. In recent weeks the possibilities of furloughs, pay freezes, tax increases, school closures, mergers, and student fees (either separately or in combination) have been mentioned.

In a visit to southwestern Pennsylvania last week the Governor said "We’re going to work with school districts and see what they can do…" He went on to say that there might have to be some consolidations or mergers. This came on the heels of his request to reopen labor contracts and negotiate pay freezes. To date the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has reported that 56 districts across the state have negotiated a wage freeze with some or all of their employees (teachers, administrators, or staff).

It is worth exploring what happened in the past decade in Pennsylvania to assess the current situation. While school enrollment fell, employee headcount in elementary and secondary education grew. Employment outpaced the growth in population and local government employment by a wide margin.

The U.S. Census Survey of Local Government Employment and Payroll provides data on nearly thirty categories of local personnel, everything from police and fire to water and sewerage. Elementary and secondary education employment is the largest category in Pennsylvania, representing 60 percent of all local full time equivalents (FTE) in 2009. It has two sub-categories (instructional employees and other employees) that totaled 265,620 FTE. All other local government employment FTE in Pennsylvania amounted to 176,404.

From 2001 through 2009 the education category grew 24 percent, from 214,968 to 265,620. That was eight times as fast as local government employment excluding elementary and secondary education, which grew only 3 percent. It also rose much faster than the state’s population (3%), and greatly exceeded the change in public school enrollment, which actually decreased (-2% from 1.821 million to 1.780 million).

Another way of looking at this is to examine employment to population. In 2001, there were 175 education FTE per 10,000 people; by 2009, the rate was 211 per 10,000. On a per 100 student basis, the FTE rate grew from 11.8 to 14.9.

Category 2001 2009 % Change
Total Local Government FTE 386,907 442,024 14%
Elem/Sec FTE 214,968 265,620 24%
Non Elem/Sec FTE 171,939 176,404 3%
State Population 12,281,054 12,604,767 3%
Public School Enrollment 1,821,607 1,780,413 -2%

At the same time, Pennsylvania’s performance on the SAT exam showed no improvement. The math score was essentially unchanged while the reading score slipped slightly.

Clearly the enormous growth in education employment and spending is the result of the belief that education will improve with more resources. And just as clearly the data for the last decade proves once again the fallacy of that belief.

The 2011-12 state budget together with a proposal to begin a limited voucher program are likely to dramatically alter the employment and spending trajectory in elementary and secondary education in Pennsylvania.
Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst Jake Haulk, Ph.D., President
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