I think my head will explode if I have to listen to any more whining or protests about cuts to education budgets. From California to Washington, D.C., and right here in Georgia, students, teachers and various union members are showing up at capitols and at county board meetings, whipped into a fury over the thought that any cuts might be made to the precious education system. Well, here is a news flash. We’re all hurting here. Everybody has to make sacrifices, and everyone will have to make do with a little less. Unemployment in Georgia is almost 10.5%, and no one in the private sector has the luxury of raising prices to keep from laying off workers. Why should the education system, or any government department for that matter, be immune from tightening their belts like the rest of us.
Like every other government agency and department, education spending has been rising for years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006 (latest statistics available) we spent an average of $9138 per student on education nationally, with Georgia spending $8565 per student. And what exactly have we gotten for such an impressive financial outlay “for the children”? Georgia consistently ranks in the bottom 10% in academic achievement of American students, and America ranks in the lower middle of the pack of industrialized countries. The PISA test (Program for International Student Assessment) ranked American students near the bottom in math (23 of 30 countries ranked ahead, two tied) and science (where American students were 11-points below the average). So maybe I would have sympathy for protecting education budgets if we were producing the top students in the world, but we are not. We are getting our tails kicked by countries like South Korea and Poland (which, according to the 2008 OECD study, spend about half of what we do per student).
There’s a huge debate around the issue of choice in education. The conversation on school choice has a number of talking points ranging from letting public funds follow students to shutting down all public schools and completely privatizing education. And there are some who don’t fall into the “pro” column on choice at all. (I don’t understand them, but they’re out there.)
My libertarian approach to education is pretty straightforward: it’s my (and my wife’s) responsibility to see that our children are properly trained for their future, and at no point does the federal government (or the state government) have any impact whatsoever on our role as parents.
I had this conversation with then-Congressman Nathan Deal while he was on the campaign trail running to be Georgia’s next Governor. My wife and I are fortunate enough to be able to send our children to private school, and the conversation with Deal was about my taxes actually paying for my children’s education. He was making the argument that Georgia had to make sure private schools were reaching certain standards before education funds could follow students to private schools.
While I understand his concern, his stance on that issue takes parental responsibility completely out of the equation. My wife and I have chosen a specific school to help us teach our children. That school answers to us. If the product it provides is not found to be satisfactory, we will have the option of (and responsibility for) finding another school that will meet our standards.
I don’t want to be airing dirty laundry in a public forum, so I’m not going to get into much detail with the personal information on this issue, but this year my wife and I have had frustrations with the school our children attend. After considering our options, we have decided to partner with another school for their education next school year.
During the recent Save Our Schools rally, Matt Damon made some comments about teachers being paid poorly. Guess what, he’s wrong, as Nick Gillespie points out:
According to Department of Education statistics for 2007-2008 (the most recent year listed), the average public school teacher brought in a bit over $53,000 in “total school-year and summer earned income.” That figure, which is about $13,000 more than what the average private-school teacher gets in straight salary, does not include health and retirement benefits, places where teachers almost always get better deals and bigger employer contributions than the typical private-sector worker. For more on teacher compensation, go here.
An average salary of $53,000 may not be much for a movie star such as Damon, but it’s a pretty good wage when compared to U.S. averages. Indeed, the Census Bureau reports that median household income in 2008 was $52,000. Teaching in most public schools requires a bachelor’s degree and here teachers fare less well on first glance, though still not awful. The median income for a man with a B.A. was $82,000; for a woman, it was $54,000. About three-quarters of teachers are women, so the average salaries when gender comes into play hew closely to one another.
More to the point, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other surveys that take into account the reported number of hours worked in a year consistently show that on a per-hour basis, teacher income (again, not including fringe benefits, which are typically far more robust than those offered other workers, including college-educated professionals) is extremely strong.
In his pathetic attempt at political activism at the recent and poorly named Save Our Schools rally in D. C., Matt Damon gave an interview to Think Progress in which he stated that “despite what you hear even the union teachers are underpaid.”
Some teachers are underpaid, and some are also highly overpaid. The problem is we don’t know which we’re paying too little and which we are paying too much. As I’ve noted before, absent a free market in education, we don’t know if teachers are underpaid or overpaid because, with fixed wages in a monopoly, we don’t know what teacher wages should be.
If teacher A has an efficacy rating of 85% and teacher B has a rating of 50% and they are both being paid $40k per year (and all other factors are equal), teacher A is being underpaid relative to teacher B. But they both may still be underpaid, or vice-versa, because we don’t know what each of them should be getting paid.