Government Spending

Teacherpocalypse 2010 Is Upon Us!


Teacher firings are such a good story. Even seasoned reporters can't resist the lure of quotes from panicked public officials lamenting their absolute necessity of sacking their states' beloved kindergarten teachers. For instance, yesterday's New York Times story (which ran in today's print edition) on the coming teacherpocalypse offered this catastrophic-sounding line:

The 2010-11 school term is shaping up as one of the most austere in the last half century. In addition to teacher layoffs, districts are planning to close schools, cut programs, enlarge classes and shorten the school day, week or year to save money.

A quick read might leave the impression that state education budgets have been reduced to levels rarely seen in the post-war era. Are things really that bad, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan?

Duncan estimated that state budget cuts imperiled 100,000 to 300,000 public school jobs. In an interview on Monday, he said the nation was flirting with "education catastrophe," and urged Congress to approve additional stimulus funds to save school jobs.

"We absolutely see this as an emergency," Mr. Duncan said.

It is a budget emergency now, but not strictly because of schools have been "hit hard by the recession" as the Times suggests. It's mostly because states spent an ungodly amount of money during the '00s. It's money they don't have anymore, and you can't blame them for missing it. But catastrophe is relative here.

In the five years between 2002 and 2007, states spent just over $300 billion more than necessary to maintain operations at 2002 levels, accounting for inflation and population growth. Keeping the (not exactly slimline) engines of state governments running would have increased the 2002 spending figure—then just over $1 trillion—by 19 percent. But states actually spend half again as much, with 2007 showing a spending increase of 28 percent over 2002. With that money, the states bought more of everything—more programs, more offices, and yes, more jobs.

Increases in state spending on education were extravagant, even by the standards of those already extravagant years. Education spending increased 32 percent, with states spending $126 billion more in 2007 than they did in 2002. 

The stimulus dumped $144 billion into state and local budget gaps, and now that cash is gone. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is proposing with a plan to spend $23 billion to preserve teaching positions. But the feds can dump money all they want into state budget gaps—the gaps won't go away anytime soon unless cuts are made. Cutting education spending back to provide, say, 2002 levels of service is hardly a return to an era of privation and hardship. And there's room for an awful lot of cutting before we get anywhere close to the word austere:

aus·tere—morally strict : ascetic, markedly simple or unadorned 

As the Times story notes:

Everywhere, school officials tend to overestimate the potential for layoffs at this time of year, to ensure that every employee they might have to dismiss receives the required notifications.

True, but they also overestimate figures for layoffs because bigger numbers make a better, scarier story.

(All facts and figures are courtesy of Adam B. Summers, my colleague at the Reason Foundation, who makes many of these points in Reason's May 2009 cover story, "Failed States.")


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  1. How do you expect our children to pay off our debt if you don’t spend the money now to make them future productive members of the labor force? Yeah.

    1. Or we’ll go on strike and show you!…..t-pay.html

      For teh childrenz.

      1. Fire them. Every motherfucking one.

        1. They should fire them. I am so tired of union employees who stand by the hackneyed “we have no choice but to strike”. Well, if you actually did care about the kids, you’d realize that a 10% pay cut in this world is much better than the 100% pay cut many people are receiving and if you don’t give a crap about the kids (and I don’t think for a second that many of them do) they have the option of finding a new job (a new district or a new career).

          1. Actually, as a longtime teacher in a major city that is facing layoffs, I can tell you that I would take a pay cut if it helped us avoid layoffs. At least 10 of my colleagues agree with me. However, our mayor and chancellor have not suggested a pay cut- they don’t think much of us- and they want to lay off those of us who have more service because we cost more.

  2. If we go back to 2003 spending levels it will be the end I tell you. The end. Don’t you guys remember how bad it was back then? I mean most kids didn’t go to school and the few that did usually had class in tents.

  3. There is nothing more annoying than hearing the incessant whining from the education parasites. It’s their mantra; and I think they’ve adopted it so completely that they actually believe it to be true. Which makes any one of them who repeats it that much more punchable.

    1. Having worked briefly in that sector, I can tell you that, at least the ones I knew, absolutely believe it to be true. It’s simply taken as an article of faith that more $ = better education, regardless of where it ends up being spent.

    2. Truth by repeated assertion.

    3. Fuck off, bitch.

      1. Really? That’s the extent of your comments and argument? Did that somehow empower you?

        Grow up and find something positive or at least insightful to say or just be quiet.

    4. Yeah, my wife still subs at a high school – she enjoys engaging the other teachers at lunch in “spirited” conversations, shall we say. The collectivism in their views is frightening, and #1 collective view –> ANY cut in ed funding is the apocalypse, and no alternative solutions exist but raising taxes/spending more.

      The teacher stories are more entertaining than the student stories…although, as I noted, also a bit frightening.

      1. no alternative solutions exist but raising taxes/spending more.

        Again, they always want us to believe that they are bound by some magical power and that they are forced into a corner from which there is no escape (other than paying them more, of course).

  4. Hmmm….here in Washington, the budget gap at the state level could be solved by reverting back a couple of years in spending. (Yes, John posted it before me) Yeah…..those poor kids sure were suffering a few years ago. I mean, heck….to think that back then they had to sell off one kid per school per week to make the budget close.

  5. The ignorance. Time and again, the link between higher education spending and results – both internationally and between states – is shown to be non-existent:


    Yet that does not stop the education industry from demanding constant increases.

    Katherine talks about the massive increases from 2002 spending levels, but the huge build-up in education costs started well before then: between 1960 and 1995, spending per pupil (inflation adjusted) grew by 212% (see…..ation.html). Yet I don’t think anyone can honestly argue that education became three-times as good over that period.

    1. And fuck you too!

  6. Meanwhile, New Jersey voters actually did something right for once.

    New Jersey voters took a stand on school spending and property taxes Tuesday, rejecting 260 of 479 school budgets across 19 counties, according to unofficial results in statewide school elections.

    In the proposed state budget he unveiled last month, Gov. Chris Christie slashed $820 million in aid to school districts and urged voters to defeat budgets if teachers in their schools did not agree to one-year wage freezes.

  7. Duncan estimated that state budget cuts imperiled 100,000 to 300,000 public school jobs. In an interview on Monday, he said the nation was flirting with “education catastrophe,” and urged Congress to approve additional stimulus funds to save school jobs.

    And people wonder why I never take anything politicians say seriously.

  8. Livejournal Emo Suicide Fatty summarizes the news!

    forced drastic warning
    no choice hit hard used up
    cut cut cuts
    imperiled catastrophe emergency
    cuts cuts
    devastating no end in sight
    cut cuts
    emergency losses woes warning
    emergency looming now
    cut cut cut
    drastic pain pain
    drained hurts

  9. Let them quit. There are tens of thousands of early retirees in the sciences, etc. and many other professionals and managers without jobs who would love to teach (and love teaching) but are prohibited because they lack the “credentials” to do so.

    1. I actually tried this. I was told by the woman at the other end of the phone in no uncertain terms that my engineering degree and 25 years of experience didn’t qualify me to teach high school math and science.

      Their loss, as far as I’m concerned.

      … Hobbit

      1. Same here. As if we couldn’t possibly come up with lesson plans in about an hour fucking flat.

        1. A lesson plan is much too sophisticated. Most of those motherfuckers couldn’t spell “lesson plan”.

          Just wing it dude.

        2. As if we couldn’t possibly come up with lesson plans in about an hour fucking flat.

          Obviously you are completely unqualified to work in the field of education. You don’t even know you’re supposed to use the state-approved lesson plan. How do you expect your students to learn all the state-approved answers to the state-approved questions on the state-approved tests?

  10. I can’t tell from either the NYC article nor Katherine’s essay if inflation was factored in, but it damned well should be. So should population growth.

    Even figuring in these factors, however, Katherine misses a big point: pension expenses are far worse than they were in 2002. We would have to spend a lot less on today’s children than we did on those of 2002, in order to pay for costs that were incured BACK THEN. A lot of the “increase” in public spending has actually been nothing more than the bills coming due from the false pension accounting of prior generations.

    1. Goddam if Chad doesn’t make a good point.

      He’s right, of course: in order to stay within 2002 spending levels, we’ll probably have to roll all the way back to (I’m guessing here) 2000 staffing levels, with the job reduction made necessary by pension funding.

      SEIU: unemploying Americans even in the public sector.

      1. Something finally got through to him.

        Now if only he could realize that we’re facing an even greater catastrophe from Social Security and it’s false accounting.

        And Medicare. And Obama Care.

        1. And Medicare. And Obama Care.

          You could have just said “government”.

          1. I actually think some functions of government are necessary. So I get a bit pissed when social welfare programs start sucking cash away from them.

            Personally, I’d rather have my potholes filled than pay SEIU workers to collect retirement checks while still working.

            What they should do, really is negotiate a lump sum payment to each of these people and drop it into an annuity, and be done with it. Write off the debt, and get everyone on 401(k)s in the future.

      2. Yep – Chad’s spot on. Pensions and healthcare are certainly the big issues in MI. It ain’t teacher salaries or bricks and mortar…

    2. Chad’s right. We’re essentially making a dramatic runup of the budget by paying people not to teach.

      1. This is the problem with pension plans in general, public OR private. Even company stock funds. The fact that the revenues are controlled by the company/government means that the funds tend to get raided to pay current expenses in the hopes that things will get better in future years. Estimates are always overly optimistic, and when those future years arrive the money isn’t there, and the company or government is financially crippled. If you’re GM, that means you can’t compete against other companies that don’t have these obligations to pay back. If you’re a state government then you can’t compete with states that have lesser financial burdens.

        Another reason for small government. The lighter weight the state’s financial burdens are, the more flexibility you have in responding to economic or even political events.

        1. You nailed the comment that I was going to make. These pension funds, public and private, were supposed to be funded all along. You know, compound interest and all that? The reason that we’re facing a crisis right now is 100% due to the fact that these funds were raided!

          Also, Hazel’s comment above about replacing the pension funds was spot-on.

          … Hobbit

    3. Hiss, hiss, Obama will not forget this betrayal, Chad, hiss, hiss.

  11. Want to save the teacher’s jobs? Try firing the bureaucrats. They get paid more, and they never see the inside of a classroom. The LA Unified School District has a ten-story office building full of dead weight.


  12. Fire teachers? Sometimes I wish I was a real leftist and could propose driving all teachers into the rural countryside to harvest rice by hand from can to can’t at bayonet point followed by all night “re-education” sessions where wrong answers are graded with a rifle butt upside the head….

    1. Ahhhh, the good old days.

  13. Teachers are such an easy target…
    Everyone who ever occupied a chair in a classroom thinks they know how to do it better.
    I’m retiring this year after 32 years of teaching (and yes, our retirement system is fully funded through our contributions) and I’m ready. It is a very rewarding task, but it is also the most difficult job I’ve ever had. I have been a retail clerk, construction laborer, truck driver, forklift operator, painter, laboratory technician, and spent six years in the Army National Guard. In every private sector job I’ve worked, I’ve seen more culls than there are in the teaching profession. No organization, as a group, held a higher percentage of dedicated, hardworking people.

    I am teaching a 4/5 combination class this year (separate lessons for each class in every subject except P.E., Art and Handwriting) and we just took our first section of the state-mandated achievement test (Reading) today. Every student scored Proficient or Advanced.
    And yet, I spend most of my 30 minute “lunch hour” and every recess (except those when I have duty) trying to drag 4-6 of those students (and their ineffective parents) through the curriculum. Barring some miracle change, these kids will serve as the examples of the lousy job our schools do for the whiners like many who write here.
    By the way, in many schools (like ours) you don’t need a certificate to substitute teach. Go ahead and give it a try. I’ve seen a lot of people try, and some were actually good at it. I’ve also seen a lot of intelligent, knowledgeable folks who couldn’t teach their way through a fourth grade Math lesson.

  14. It is so easy to solve this crises. First we must make all teachers take a 20 percent pay cut. They be making way too much money for only working 3 hours a day and 6 months per year. Next don’t give them no more pensions. From now on you retire you go work part time at Food Mart, we don’t pay you to sit home watching sope operas. Next make them pay for they’re benefists. Don’t give them no free healthcare. Then we don’t gotta layoff no teachers and we aint gotta hurt no students educations.

  15. only us true americans can save america. don’t let no greedy self fish teachers destroy america.

  16. While the numbers provided in this article are probably fairly accurate, is it not also true that 2002 coincided with the 2001 re-authorization of ESEA (better known as NCLB)? Since the very beginning NCLB was criticized for being an unfunded mandate. Certainly, to comply with the additional mandates, states, districts, and schools needed to spend more money to provide additional services, redesign tests and/or accountability departments in order to comply with these unfunded mandates. So maybe instead of placing so much blame on the states, the Feds shouldn’t get off without a slap on the wrist as well. (I’m not saying there isn’t a lot of waste and overspending in education, but this factor also needs to be considered.)

  17. Check out this related piece on…

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