Report: Public schools have been short-changing teachers for decades

K-12 staffing has surged over the past 65 years; non-teachers have benefitted most

INDIANAPOLIS — A new national report released today looks at how much American public schools have spent on staffing over the past 65 years—and who benefitted the most. The report breaks down staffing spending at the national and state levels. (Click here to see data from your state.)

People might be surprised to learn that instead of spending money on those on the front lines, public schools hired non-teachers at a rate seven times the growth of the student population. In contrast, teachers were hired at a rate that was just 2.5 times student population growth.

According to Back to the Staffing Surge, if non-teacher hiring had simply matched student growth, taxpayers would have saved more than $800 billion—enough to give a roughly $11,000 permanent raise to every public school teacher in America. Instead, inflation-adjusted public school teacher salaries have fallen by 2 percent since 1992.

“Plenty of folks talk about valuing teachers by paying them more, but the data here are crystal clear: Teachers are getting hosed,” said EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow. “We’re spending more and more on K-12 public schools, but somehow that money isn’t finding its way to our front-line educators.”

Enlow noted those savings also could have been used to provide families with an additional $8,000 per year to customize schooling options for their K-12 students via an education savings account.

Dr. Ben Scafidi, a professor of economics and director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University and the author of Back to the Staffing Surge, first began examining public school staffing in 2012 using publicly available data from the U.S. Department of Education. He updated his original report in 2013.

“As a researcher, I wanted to find out whether we’ve been supporting educators with more resources, as K-12 policymakers and stakeholders often say we should, or whether that money has been spent elsewhere,” Scafidi said, noting that academic outcomes have stagnated despite the staffing surge.

Scafidi was most surprised that during the Great Recession, when the surge was briefly and modestly reversed, school administrators were roughly 1.7 times more likely to reduce teachers than they were to reduce other administrators or non-teaching staff.

“Non-teachers have been hired at an alarmingly high rate, but when the economy tanked, they were retained more frequently than teachers,” Scafidi said. “Are our priorities where they should be? Perhaps it’s time for a national conversation about what we say we want versus where we’ve historically been spending our education dollars, and families and teachers should be at the head of the table.”




Public school employment growth continues to dramatically outpace student enrollment growth.

Between 1950 and 2015, the number of full-time teachers increased nearly two and a half times as quickly as the increase in students, which reduced class sizes significantly. Over that same time period, the number of non-teachers—including administrators, social workers, counselors, reading and math coaches, janitors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and curriculum specialists—increased more than seven times the increase in students.

While schools were hiring many more administrators and other non-teachers, teacher salaries stagnated—and teachers were more likely than non-teachers to be fired.

As public schools were hiring more and more non-teaching staff, inflation-adjusted salaries for public school teachers actually fell by 2 percent. And not only did teachers’ salaries stagnate, but they were also more vulnerable to cuts when school budgets were tightened. During the Great Recession—one period during which the staffing surge was briefly and modestly reversed—school administrators were about 1.7 times more likely to fire teachers than they were to fire other administrators or non-teaching staff.

Hiring non-teaching staff to match student enrollment growth would have saved more than $800 billion—enough to give every teacher a permanent $11,000 raise.

The explosion in “all other staff” hiring had a huge opportunity cost. This report’s conservative estimate puts the potential savings at $35 billion per year, for a total of $805 billion. With that money, public schools could have given every teacher a permanent $11,100 raise or funded $8,000 per year education savings accounts (ESAs) for more than 4 million students.

Despite arguments to the contrary, the staffing surge has not improved academic outcomes for students.

Those who support this massive spending on non-teaching staff argue that it was necessary to improve the academic outcomes of an increasingly disadvantaged student population. However, empirical studies find that today’s public school students are slightly more advantaged than those of previous generations. And public school students’ academic achievement and attainment have stagnated—or even fallen—over the past several decades.


EdChoice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing full and unencumbered educational choice as the best pathway to successful lives and a stronger society. EdChoice believes that families, not bureaucrats, are best equipped to make K-12 schooling decisions for their children. The organization works at the state level to educate diverse audiences, train advocates and engage policymakers on the benefits of high-quality school choice programs. EdChoice is the intellectual legacy of Milton and Rose D. Friedman, who founded the organization in 1996.