(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
A 7-year veteran teacher teaching in Arizona’s Paradise Valley Unified School District has created a social media firestorm by posting her pay stub on social media- $35,621. Before writing anything else, I like anyone else want to pay dedicated teachers much better than this. Teacher compensation decisions however are made at the district/campus level, and an examination of PVUSD finances just makes things look worse. Much worse.
The Arizona Auditor General reports on district finances. Paradise Valley received total revenue of $10,143 per pupil in 2017. This figure is above the state-wide average. A class of 30 students produces over $300,000 in revenue. Even with benefit costs included, teacher compensation will not even sniff 20% of the revenue generated by this class of 30. Where did the rest of the money go?
This chart from the Heritage Foundation tracks national data, and provides a big part of the answer- American schools have seen a vast increase in the hiring of non-teachers. This is not to say that any school can ever do without non-teachers, but at one point we had 2 teachers for every non-teacher in American schools. These days it looks more like 1 to 1. Despite a substantial increase in inflation adjusted spending per pupil since the 2-1 days, the large increase in non-teaching staff places a limit on teacher salaries.
Ms. Milich works for a district that receives over $10,000 per pupil in revenue. That district has both an elected school board and a chapter of the Arizona Education Association that is very active in the politics of the district. A teacher with seven years under her belt getting paid $35,000 does not suggest that either the district or the association has been placing a priority on teacher compensation.
Impossible? Just take another look at the chart. American schools have spent decades placing a priority on increasing school district employment, with a much stronger focus on non-teachers. What we refer to as “teacher unions” are actually “school district employee unions” and just as a quick mental exercise close your eyes and ask yourself: do you think the chart above would look that way if the NEA and AFT opposed these trends? What if they had been supporting them for decades?
Ok open your eyes now. Get it? Good.
This teacher has every right to feel frustrated. I hope the district decides to compensate her in a fashion commensurate with her contribution to her school. I strongly suspect that contribution is far greater than a low double digit percentage of the revenue her class generates.
Yes state spending and taxing decisions also play into this- but we should never forget that Arizona is not a wealthy state, has an unusually small working age population, and decides on school funding levels through direct and indirect democracy. In 2012 statewide voters declined to raise taxes for schools in Prop. 204 by a very wide margin. A few years ago voters (very narrowly) chose to increase school funding by increasing the payout rate from state land trust.
The lopsided loss in Prop. 204 and the narrow margin on the Prop. 123 vote both relate to a deep skepticism on the part of the public that increased funding will reach teachers like this one. This skeptical attitude is entirely justified. For instance, between fiscal year 2016 and 2017 per pupil revenue increased in PVUSD by $664 per pupil (from $9,497 to $10,143) and this teacher received a raise of $131.25 and this was after completing professional development.
Arizona voters decide school funding democratically, and they will have the opportunity to increase funding again in the future. Under the current district setup, the bucket looks to have multiple large leaks if the aim is to increase teacher compensation. Some of my tribe on the center right here in Arizona tends to think that these spontaneous teacher protest movements are secretly the work of the Arizona Education Association. I don’t believe this is the case. Although much of this frustration is misdirected at choice programs, things like this social media paystub are indicators of genuinely felt grievances.
It would be a huge mistake however to continue avoiding questions about district priorities.