- A new report from Bellwether Education Partners, "Benefits Take Larger Bite out of District K-12 Budgets," crunches the numbers on U.S. Department of Education data on district finances from 2005 to 2014 for a better picture of district-level education and instructional spending alongside educator benefits spending.
- According to the findings, district benefits spending has risen 22%, compared to a 1.6% growth rate in overall K-12 spending between 2005 and 2014, with the percentage of national ed funding spent on benefits increasing from 16% to 19% and resulting in more than $11 billion less in the money making it to classrooms.
- According to the research, 23 states sent less money to the classroom in 2014 than in 2005, with as much as 30% and as little as 8% of state-level ed funding dedicated to benefits.
In the broader picture, teacher benefits are one facet of a $1 trillion public sector pensions and benefits shortfall. Teacher pay and benefits in particular, however, have gained significant attention in recent months with a number of walkouts and protests focused around them in states ranging from West Virginia to Arizona.
Leaving teachers with sub-par security in retirement isn't just questionable policy — it contributes to hiring difficulties in districts nationwide. Pay has largely failed to keep up with rising costs of living, with San Francisco among the most notable examples of scenarios where teachers can no longer afford to even live in the cities in which they teach. In most states, it has even fallen. On top of that, teachers spend an average of $530 of their own money annually on supplies for their classrooms. Coupled with the lack of respect they often feel from the public and policymakers — former education secretary John King felt the need to apologize to them for this as one of his first acts in the role — it's easy to see why there might be caution when it comes to pursuing a career in the field.
Solving this equation will, in part, require an overall rethinking of public sector pensions and benefits. But it will also necessitate states to rethink education funding overall. As recently as November, data showed 29 states providing per-pupil funding that was still below pre-recession levels, and a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education also found that state and local spending on jails and prisons far outpaced spending on public education over the last 30 years.