Teacher quality: Money matters or matters “somewhere” or not at all

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Eric Hanushek and others have argued for decades now that “Money doesn’t matter” in education. He has hedged and said that it “matters somewhere.”

Texas is that somewhere. Home to decades of school finance lawsuits (Edgewood etc.), including San Antonio v. Rodriguez, according to IDRA, is currently allowing differences of $36,000 per classroom.

The state of Texas has fought school finance for decades and decades (at least they are consistent).

What exactly does money buy you on the open market? Being that about 85% of a districts costs are staffing, it is clear that educator quality suffers as legislators cut billions while giving corporations  “hefty discounts on their school tax bills.”

In the latest school finance lawsuit the impact of low-teacher pay were on full-display. Professor Jacob Vigdor “was called to testify by attorneys for wealthy schools that are among the 600 districts to sue the state over $5.4 billion in cuts to school funding.” The Associated Press reported:

The quality of Texas’ teachers is dropping largely because of low pay in a competitive market, an expert economist testified Tuesday in the public school finance trial.

Duke University professor Jacob Vigdor said teacher salaries were 30 percent lower in Texas than for other college graduates and have fallen behind salaries paid in other Sun Belt states. He added 32 other states pay higher salaries, whereas Texas’ have not kept up with inflation since 2000.

At a recent Education Summit, there were Texas legislators that espoused the idea that cutting education funding in Texas is the “new normal.”

If you are a talented college student or recent college graduate and you are made aware of the following… what career path would you choose?

The average Texas teacher salary is $47,311, well below the national average of $54,965. The pay is also historically low, noting that 50 years ago a teacher earned 50 percent more than a registered nurse in Texas, but now nurses earn 50 percent more than teachers.

Vigdor, however, pointed out that state data shows schools have added 270,000 more students, but have lost 3,400 teachers. He warned that simply firing low-performing teachers without offering better salaries to better candidates will not solve the problem, particularly with so many teachers nearing retirement.

In Waiting for Superman, Hanushek espoused the idea that districts should fire the bottom 5% of teachers (nevermind that using VAM to determine the bottom 5% of teachers is “junk science“). Vigdor argued:

“Firing the bottom 5 percent on an annual basis means recruiting 15,000 extra teachers per year to replace them. This is on top of the roughly 40,000 teachers that you need to hire just to keep up with population growth and regular attrition,” Vigdor testified. “The state would have a difficulty bumping up from 40,000 to 55,000. The difficulties of recruiting highly qualified teachers would only get worse.”

I could be mistaken, but markets (including teacher labor markets) function on distribution of capital. Money does matter for teacher quality and the success of our public schools. The Texas Legislature wants a free (or cheap) lunch when it comes to education, it is not to be had if we expect and desire a high-quality system of public education.

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Categories: School Finance

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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4 Comments on “Teacher quality: Money matters or matters “somewhere” or not at all”

  1. Jennifer
    December 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Great article. This attitude towards teachers is the same in California: higher expectations with much less support.

  2. December 9, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    Saying that “money doesn’t matter,” which is often accompanied by a sound bite such as “Educators simply need to be more creative or innovative in funding strategies,” is like telling an airline pilot that engine power doesn’t matter. Eventually, as engine power is decreased, a pilot is unable to sustain altitude and will experience a descent (or free fall) to the ground. Ironically, the “money doesn’t matter” mantra is most often perpetuated by those who believe that education should be run “more like business,” where money clearly matters. Yes, money matters — even in public education.

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