I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wonky, wonky, wonky...

Larry Littlefield over at Room Eight has posted some really interesting - well, to me, anyway - data about schools in NY, MA, and NJ. He's an NYC guy who used NJ for comparisons, so his focus is somewhat different than mine, but his data, which comes from the Census Bureau's 2008 Finance Data, is still very illuminating to our current debate about NJ schools.

He makes adjustments for cost of living in his data; I'm not qualified to say whether his methodology is sound, but, as a layman, it seems to make sense.

Boiling down some of his observations:

Total non-instructional spending:
$4,407 per child in the U.S.
$3,301 in New York City (with adjustment)
$5,142 in the Downstate Suburbs (with adjustment)
$5,311 in Upstate New York
$5,848 in New Jersey (with adjustment).

With adjustments where applied, FY 2008 instructional spending per student:
$6,211 in the United States, 
$10,164 in New York City (64 percent higher!), 
$9,720 in the Downstate Suburbs, 
$9,525 in Upstate New York, 
$8,039 in New Jersey, and 
$6,940 in Massachusetts. 

Littlefield posits:

New Jersey may be lower because they weren’t, and aren’t, putting any money in to the teacher pension funds, meaning either that state’s economy will be destroyed by soaring taxes or its school system destroyed by money diverted out of the classroom to the retired even sooner than in New York. Unless the pensions aren’t paid, due to something like bankruptcy.

Instructional salaries per child after adjustment
$6,133 NYC
$6,742 in the Downstate Suburbs
$6,350 in Upstate New York
$5,291 in New Jersey
$4,494 in Massachusetts

Instructional employee benefits, such as health care for workers and retirees, and pension contributions, adjusted 
$2,949 for New York City
$1,249 in the U.S.
$2,441 in the Downstate Suburbs
$2,610 in Upstate New York
$1,086 in Massachusetts
$1,171 in New Jersey (where they haven’t been funding their pensions)

Some quick reactions of my own:

- What's up with all the non-instructional spending in NJ? Maybe the consolidators have a point.

- We NJ teachers have known for some time that we are not spending more per pupil in the classroom than NY. But look at MA; you gonna tell me the cap doesn't have something to do low instructional spending or low salaries?

- The NJ benefits number is nuts. Less than half of the money spent right across the border in NY?

Bruce Baker has his take on the data which I still have to digest. We teachers owe it to ourselves to figure out what these numbers mean.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

The apparent differences in categories of funding in the Census Fiscal survey often relate to differences in classification of funds that are difficult to nail down. I'll have to double check those numbers - but the instructional category can get particularly fuzzy for cross state comparisons. Working across multiple sources of data we do know generally that NY teachers and administrators have higher salaries than NJ teachers or administrators - when comparing those in the region. We also know that NJ tends to have more staff per pupil than NY schools - and some of this appears to be instructional support staff. Keep in mind that some of this difference relates to the fact that in NY, the only high spenders are the affluent suburbs. Poorer urban districts fall behind in NY state, and those are the districts that would have more support staff. NJ poorer urban districts added many instructional support staff when Abbott money was scaled up between 1998 and 2003. They added support staff instead of classroom teachers in many cases because they didn't have classrooms. At this same time, NY state was subsidizing a buy-down of property taxes in affluent suburbs - and those districts turned around and spent it on higher salaries. I would argue that it's probably better to try to compare like districts with like districts from state to state and to try to look across multiple data sources to figure out what's going on. I've done this for many years now. I'm not sure I'd make much of those comparisons above at first glance.

That aside, the consolidators do have a point. I have several posts on that topic.