In his most recent commentary for Carolina Journal, political analyst John Hood explains the need for context in discussions of education spending. Hood writes:
The average salary of a public schoolteacher in North Carolina was about $54,000 last year, up 20 percent since 2014. That was one of the largest increases in the nation. According to the latest data from the country’s largest teacher union, the National Education Association, our state’s average pay ranked 29th. Adjusted for cost of living, North Carolina ranked 20th.
However, Hood suggests, that does not paint a full picture:
[W]orkers aren’t just paid with cash. They often place a high value on non-wage benefits. States differ in what they offer teachers as well as how credible those offers are in the long run — that is, how solvent their pension and health plans are. Without adjusting for benefits, we can’t really say how states rank in average teacher compensation.
What’s more, Hood explains, in a complex world, potential teachers are not simply choosing between one teaching position and another – nor making those decisions based on compensation alone. Hood writes:
They compare the compensation they’ll make teaching in their state’s public schools to the compensation they’ll make doing something else (including the difference in working days per year). Or they move to a state for a different reason, such as accompanying a spouse, and then get teaching jobs.
Hood says that, in order to have an intelligent conversation about education spending, we need to take in all the factors:
I am persuaded by the evidence that policymakers should instead let the pupil-teacher ratio rise and boost salaries, particularly for the highest-performing teachers. The effects on student performance would likely be greater. Although it may be popular, class-size reduction is usually not the most cost-effective approach.
If we are ever to make the best use of resources devoted to education, we need to find a better, less accusatory way to talk about school spending.