Special interests increase the cost of education, but are detrimental to students and teachers

Last month, after numerous delays, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released the results of the 2021 academic evaluation. The results were staggering: more than 47 percent of our eighth graders can’t read, and a whopping 78 percent are below math. .

Trends show a sharp decline in student performance compared to two years ago. But even the numbers before the pandemic were unacceptably, horribly low, as more than half of our students left.

The lack of funding cannot be blamed for this pathetic speech.

Nathan Benefield

In 2019-20, Pennsylvania school districts received more than $ 19,000 per student. This funding ranks seventh in the country. Even the progressive legal education center gives Pennsylvania a score for its overall level of funding.

For context: $ 19,000 per student equals $ 380,000 for a class of 20 people or $ 570,000 for a class of 30 people.

Where then does all this money go?

This is certainly not just for teachers ’salaries. While the average salary of teachers in Pennsylvania of $ 71,500 ranks 11th in the country (and higher in terms of cost of living), according to the National Education Association, this is only part of the cost.


One of the biggest – and fastest growing – categories of school spending is pensions. School district pension contributions have grown by $ 3.5 billion over the past 10 years, an incredible 533 percent increase.

Much of this is accounted for by the cost of repaying “unreasonable liabilities” or pension debt. While bad political decisions created this debt, special interests in education – including teachers’ union leaders – were the architects of this bad policy.

The Pennsylvania Education Association (PSEA) has long opposed any pension reform, even with clear benefits for teachers and taxpayers. They falsely claimed that there is no crisis and that the growth of the stock market eliminates pension debt.

The result: the current rate of employer contributions – which are school districts, or rather what taxpayers have to pay – is 35.26 percent of the payroll.

That’s $ 25,160 for each school teacher.

If Pennsylvania had a 401K-style plan for teachers – which, by definition, has no debt – with a generous six percent match, school districts could raise teachers’ salaries by $ 20,000 and keep the money.

But PSEA’s lies have delayed much-needed pension reform, which has cost taxpayers billions, hurting the very teachers they represent.

Quantity is above quality

This is not the only way teachers ’union leaders harm teachers, students and taxpayers.

Teachers ‘unions prefer to increase the number of members who pay dues rather than increase teachers’ salaries. Over the past 20 years, despite a seven percent drop in entrants, public schools have added another 13,000 employees.

This trade union agenda hurts teachers – and harms students. Many studies show that the most important factor in education is the quality of the teacher.

Instead, union leaders continue to insist on smaller classrooms and universal preschools, despite the fact that class size is of little use, and new research shows that universal preschools are negative.

Construction, debt and lobbying

Of course, teachers’ unions are not the only special interest that increases costs.

Anyone concerned about “public education profits” should investigate construction companies and bond lawyers – as well as union leaders who force school districts to pay school-building allowances through preferential wage mandates.

School districts spent $ 4.2 billion on construction and debt in 2019-20, which is 50 percent over 10 years. As is the case with rising pension costs, rising debt payments are not raising our children.

However, this is not the most egregious example. To fuel this overrun, school districts spend millions of your tax dollars hiring lobbyists who lobby the state government for higher taxes and expenses.

Recent two Commonwealth Foundation reports have reported that school districts are paying more than $ 10 million to lobbying associations and several million more to hire contract lobbyists.

These groups are not only lobbying for more costs, but also against parental choices. These tax-funded lobbyists are working to destroy charter schools and tax credit scholarship programs that educate students for a fraction of the cost.

Special interests that benefit from public schools, led by teachers ’union leaders, increase taxpayer spending. But all these additional costs do not help our children or teachers. In fact, much of it never reaches the “students” that Pennsylvania spends it on.

We need a new program in education that puts parents, students and teachers above special interests and their lobbyists in Harrisburg.

Nathan Benefield is the Senior Vice President of the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank in Pennsylvania.

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