AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
In response to learning loss and general worse outcomes for students brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many states and localities have in recent years pushed to drastically expand funding for education. But data increasingly shows that much of this money never reaches students or even teachers and is instead vacuumed up by an ever-growing administrative state within the public school system.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, from 2000-2019, hiring of administrators far outpaced growth in student and teacher populations. In those 19 years, the number of students in the American public schools system increased 7.6%, while the number of teaching positions increased 8.7%. In that same time period, the number of administrative roles increased a startling 87.6%.
A separate report from Education Next highlights just how much funding these extra administrators account for. For example, in Washington, D.C., school administrators make on average $20,000 more than teachers. In 2013, the Charleston County, South Carolina school system had 30 administrators with annual salaries above $100,000. By 2020, that figure had soared to 133. In total, half of states “have more noninstructional personnel than teachers,” according to the study.
Meanwhile, teacher salaries have stagnated, even as many districts struggle to fill positions. During the 2020-2021 school year, the average salary for a public school teacher in the United States was $41,770. That same year, public school administrators earned an average of $102,650 – often without ever offering a single lesson to students.
Some administrative positions are undoubtedly essential to the mission of public schools. Jobs like principal, librarian, and school nurse all fall under the label of “administrators.” But most of the new roles created in recent years have been related to so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives and other efforts by the left to infuse radical social politics into the public school system.
According to a Heritage Foundation report, 79% of public school districts with over 100,000 students now employ a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) and support staff. Many schools also have positions like “Chief Equity Officer” or an “office for cultural engagement and inclusion.”
The job descriptions for these roles are dripping in left-wing rhetoric. Take, for example, the role of Chief Equity Officer for Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio. The position, which offers an annual salary of $137,000, is described as a “mission to create equitable outcomes for all students” and “implement a comprehensive and collaborative vision for diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Many liberal state and local governments are also mandating that schools hire a certain number of staff to DEI roles, creating a fixed cost for “management” that does not affect all schools equally. Smaller schools within districts are forced to hire the same number of administrators as larger schools, leaving less money for teachers and actual student learning materials.
However, despite the left’s insistence that more administrators will boost performance, achievement gaps are growing, not shrinking. According to the Heritage Foundation report, on average since 2017, every district with a CDO or related role saw an increase in achievement gaps compared to those without one. Reading and math scores for students overall are also continuing a sharp decline.
Unsurprisingly, a growing number of parents are looking to ditch the public school system altogether, and are calling on politicians to “fund students, not systems.” In January, Utah became the third state to enact a universal school choice program, creating a state-funded scholarship program that can be used for private school tuition. The legislation also directly increased teacher pay for public school teachers, ensuring that the money that does remain in the public school system will not go toward further expanding administrative roles.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a similar bill just one week earlier, capping a year-long legislative effort to provide more than $7,000 in annual funds per student to be used at the discretion of parents, rather than education bureaucrats. Reynolds had faced opposition from some members of her own party in the state legislature over a similar bill last year, and took the unusual step of endorsing primary challenges against those members, helping unseat several and making clear the public support for school choice.
Democrats, meanwhile, have continued to insist (with little hard evidence) that school choice “harms students” – even as they mandate the continued growth of the administrative bloat that is in part driving families away from public schools in the first place. Until the left recognizes the measurable harm that their policies inflicts on students, they will continue to lose the support – and the votes – of parents nationwide.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.