More on Public School Spending

Bill Steigerwald has a great editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review dissecting per-pupil public school spending in Pittsburgh.  Generally, when I quote media articles about school spending, I have to do what should be the obvious analyses myself (as with this pathetic Washington Post piece on school spending).  However, this would be totally redundant for Steigerwald's column.  I encourage you to read it all, but here are some highlights for Pittsburgh schools:

  • Per pupil spending in the public schools is $18,719
  • Quality private schools in Pittsburgh charge from $7,000 to an elite level at $19,500.  Humorously, just over $12,000 will get you a year at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Barely half of this spending goes towards the classroom.  The rest, presumably, goes to funding a probably enormous corps of vice-principals.  (If you ever are at a school board meeting that allows public comment or Q&A, ask how many vice-principals they have in their system).  In Pittsburgh, administrative costs are 72.5% of teacher salary costs, meaning there are likely about 3 administrators for every 4 teachers.  Ugh.
  • Teachers make $86,000 in salary and benefits, or $114,667 if you adjust for the fact they only work 9 months of the year.  Kind of obviates the "teachers are underpaid" myth.

The only other thing I would have called the schools out on is their defense that they have to pay transportation, administration, and debt service out of these costs, as if somehow this made their numbers non-comparable to private benchmarks.  So what?  Do you think my kid's private school evades these costs somehow?  Their school charges about $6,500 for middle school, and they make a profit on this (and do not get any donations).  I am pretty sure they also have to pay for administration of multiple schools (they have a network of 5 schools) and for debt service on the capital costs to build the schools in the first place.  Our schools don't have transportation, but many other private schools do.


  1. Bob Smith:

    Don't forget that one way public schools try to make private schools fail is by enforcement of zoning and building codes, rules public schools don't have to obey. Public school administrators (or their sympathizers) are often on planning and zoning boards. What better way to screw private schools by promulgating zoning rules that essentially make a city off limits to private schools, or allow private schools only in the most inconvenient areas, and promulgating building codes that make it prohibitively expensive to build a private school.

  2. Ironman:

    Most people would disregard the benefits portion of teacher pay in computing the comparable compensation with actual full-time workers. Here's a tool to run those numbers.

    For the 2003-2004 school year, the average public school teacher's salary in the U.S. was $46,597. Using the tool linked above with this salary figure and assuming the teacher works an additional two hours beyond the typical six hours spent in an elementary school classroom would put their equivalent "full-time worker" annual pay at $67,306 in accounting for their shorter work year, a little over a 44% difference.

    In taking benefits into account, the costs of which should be equivalent (since both the teacher and the regular worker get the benefit of the benefits year-round.) Let's say that's $12,000 for our teacher described above: $45,597 + $12,000 = $57,597. Adding that $12,000 to our equivalent full-time year-round worker pay of $67,306 gives us $79,306, just under a 38% difference.

    Not a bad premium in pay for a profession with near-absolute job security!

  3. JoshK:

    I don't think anyone actually factors in capital costs and properly accounts for pension obligations in the public school. Any time there is a bond issuance it is completely off-balance sheet (for the school) and is treated as a state debt issue for the purpose of figuring $$/student.

    And, by us in NYC, we have schools that sit on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of real-estate, but that would never get accounted for like it would in a private company.

  4. Jim Collins:

    I think you need to refigure the number of hours that a teacher works. My wife's a Junior High School Science Teacher. She has to be at the school at 6:45 AM to stand bus duty (watching the kids come off the busses). Home room starts at 7:30 AM. Then she starts a day consisting of 9 40-minute periods. In these 9 periods she has 3 7th grade classes, 3 8th grade classes, 1 planning period, 1 lunchroom monitor period and her 40 minute lunch break. Then she's back on bus duty from 2:30 PM until 4:00 PM. I'm not even going to count the time she spends grading papers and lesson planning in the evening at home. As far as the only working 9 months out of the year goes, get real. We are lucky if we can take a week for vacation at the same time. Last year school ended on June 15th and this year started (for her on Aug. 27th. In the time between these dates she attended 7 5-day weeks of Continuing Education classes at a nearby State University, that were mandatory if she wanted to keep her teaching credentials. You don't even want to know what those classes cost. As far as those great benefits go, if they are so great then how's come we are using my medical insurance?
    I'm not complaining, we chose to do this and she loves her job. I'm just saying that it isn't the cash cow everybody thinks it is.

  5. A More Inconvenient Truth:

    As a young American, I can attest to the ranks of VPs and administrators in today's school system. As I say on my blog ( "The current school system is designed more to benefit administrators than students."

  6. Steve Dickinson:

    An earlier posting assumed certain hourly work numbers for an elementary teacher. Have you taught before Mr. Smith? I have. Based on my real experience, planning time is generally 1 hour for every three hours taught. So, using your number of 6 hours per day, the real hours per day would be 8. Also, include conference time, grading time, communicating with parents time, etc. . .

    Suffice it to say, your assumption is inaccurate. I do agree with you in one sense. That is that teachers overall compensation for arguments sake should include benefits.