Thursday, December 02, 2004


Three things come to mind in analyzing this week’s school finance rankings released by the National Education Association:

1. One of the key reasons Nebraska’s average teacher pay rose by 4.6 percent from the year before, to $39,635, is the oft-overlooked Rule of 85. A whole bunch of relatively high-paid, longtime teachers took early retirement in Nebraska about five years ago, after the Legislature put that rule in place. It assured them full pension payments if they had reached age 55 and had put in at least 30 years of teaching. So all those high-paid educators vamoosed it. Therefore, Nebraska’s average teacher pay has been temporarily, artificially depressed for a few years because of the relatively cheap hires of young teachers to replace those graybeards. That’s why we plunged in the rankings — not because we have mean, Scrooge-like taxpayers, as the state NEA union has tried to paint it. Nebraska’s gain from 41st place to 36th place in average teacher pay has to be analyzed in the context of many factors, not the least of which is that ultra-generous early-retirement opportunity.

2. Texas education advocate Donna Garner has pointed out that federal funding is not included in the NEA statistics on spending per pupil, a huge oversight, intentional or not, since federal tax dollars can cover as much as 11 percent of the total K-12 bill. In the case of Texas, that’s another $3 billion that the NEA figures exclude. Even without the federal piece of the education spending pie, average annual cost per pupil in this country has increased to $8,208, the NEA reported. Multiply that by 13 years of a K-12 education, and we’re well over the $100,000-per-pupil mark. How many BMWs would that buy? Heck, what about part ownership of an airplane? How many kids would rather have that 100 grand put in trust, and spend 13 years of their lives in the library with self-directed learning, knowing that if they can pass some relatively easy tests at age 18, they’ll be set for college and then some? And doesn’t that make the homeschoolers look even more heroic, sparing us taxpayers that $100,000 per child, and doing a better job of it to boot? Think, people. Think.

3. Nebraska needs to look hard at another ranking in the NEA stats and what it says about our efficiency, per teacher. The state ranks 40th in the ratio of students to teachers. We have one teacher in place for every 13.7 kids. That compares to the nation’s most-efficient personnel deployment state, Utah, with one teacher for every 22.5 kids. So 39 states have figured out how to educate more kids per teacher than we have. Hmm. Nebraska always says our student-to-staff ratio is a lot lower than in most states because we are so heavily rural and the kids are so spread out. But hey: what’s Utah? It ain’t exactly a bustling metroplex. And they beat us on standardized test scores all the time. Think about it.

The most important ratio of all isn’t even in the NEA’s news release, and that is the ratio of public demands for cost-effectiveness, to educators’ actual performance. Now, THAT’S a national ranking I’d like to see.

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