Frozen Assets: Rethinking Teacher Contracts Could Free Billions for School Reform

Education Sector
Marguerite Roza
January 2007 

This paper by the insightful and prolific Marguerite Roza analyzes eight common provisions in teacher contracts, showing how each contributes to overall education spending. For example, experience-based pay accounts for about 10 percent of the more than $500 billion America spends on K-12 education annually. Salary increases linked to educational credentials (e.g., a master's degree) and class size limitations each account for about 2 percent. The other contract provisions account for smaller percentages--sick, personal, and professional-development days; teachers aides; and excess health and retirement benefits (above those provided in other professions) each tally between 0.5 and 1.3 percent of total spending. Of course, even 1 percent of $500 billion is a big number, which brings us to the report's fundamental assertion. We spend billions on teacher perks with little or no evidence that the money is spent wisely, or wouldn't be better used to recruit stronger teachers, reward the best teachers, or target resources to the neediest students. This paper is best read as a national overview; it doesn't dig into specific examples or variations between states or districts. But it poses key issues. Have we made optimal tradeoffs in our public-education budgets or are they simply haphazard accumulations of myriad decisions made in years past? You already know the answer. But the unions don't want to hear it. The Washington Post caught Antonia Cortese of the AFT saying that the report was "on thin ice for its sweeping ... and often inaccurate" assertions. Reg Weaver of the NEA could only repeat his favorite mantra when asked about the report: "fully fund public education." One hopes more substantive discussions are occurring somewhere. One can be confident that Dr. Roza will keep raising such issues and for that we are grateful. The report is online here.

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