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

Monday, October 4, 2010

State Rankings on Ed Spending

Once again, Bruce Baker turns conventional education wisdom on its ear:
Every year, through many different sources, state politicians and political activists make great waves over which state spends more on public education, and which spends less. Who’s in first place? Who’s in last? Those from differing perspectives have different motives. Politicians and anti-tax, anti-government activists search for their way to find that “our states spends more than everyone else and gets nothing for it,” while others hoping to increase education spending search frantically for low ratings – “We’re in last place and that’s a disgrace!” Of course, not everyone can be in first or last place and it’s pretty damn hard to tweak the numbers to move a state from near the top to near the bottom. Here, I’ll present a few alternative, reasonable rankings – the last two of which, I believe are most reasonable, though for some states still differ significantly.
Read the whole thing. It's clear NJ spending on education is near the top of the nation, but it's not #1.

Bruce's post brings up a lot of questions when trying to compare states: higher costs for educating poor children, how much income a state has to tap, how much "effort" they make based on that income, and so on. Certainly, this is a lot more complex than the mouth-breathing debate we've had up until now.

Given the current climate in NJ, Bruce's post make me wonder about a few things:

- Why are we near the top in terms of education spending? Bruce has shown previously that NJ teachers make significantly less in the Metro NYC area than do teachers in NY; why isn't that reflected in the rankings? Is it, as I've conjectured before, administrative costs?

- In the comments to the above post, Bruce wrote:
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. 
Is that why we're as highly ranked as we are: Abbott money? Do our poor districts do better in terms of funding than other states?

I think that's a really important question to answer going forth in this debate. If the issue is not comparatively high teacher salaries, but a comparatively small gap between funding rich and poor schools, that changes the premise of the "reformers" argument.

- According to Figure 8 in Bruce's post, we are second only to VT in the amount of money we allocate to schools as a percentage of our total state economy. But in 2007-08 (the year of Bruce's numbers), we were paying over $650 million into the pension. Now, we're paying nothing - but we're also in a recession. But we also cut over a billion last year.

So, where are we now?

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