Report: Ohio school spending rising; teacher pay, enrollment declining



(The Center Square) – Ohio schools spent nearly 15% more per student in 2020 than in 2002, while enrollment, the number of teachers and teacher pay dropped.

According to a new report from the Reason Foundation released Thursday morning, the bulk of the inflation-adjusted increase covered employee benefits, specifically teacher pension debt.

The Reason Foundation’s Education Spending Across 50 States showed Ohio’s inflation-adjusted education revenue grew from $14,008 per student in 2002 to $16,064 per student in 2020. That increase keeps it well below the national average, ranking 38th in the country.

“Between 2002 and 2020, Ohio’s inflation-adjusted public school funding went up by over $2,000 per student. But much of this went to spending on employee benefits, which is driven by teacher pension debt,” said Aaron Smith, one of the report’s authors. “This means that current teachers don’t actually benefit from this increased spending. In fact, the average inflation-adjusted teacher salary in the Buckeye State went down by over 3%. Ohio is spending more on public schools, but teachers are getting less.”

The report also shows student population in the state dropped by 7.7% over the same period, while total public education staff grew by 48%. The number of teachers, however, fell by 13.2%, while non-teachers increased by more than 117%.

At the same time, the total salary for teachers made up 77% of total benefits in 2002 but dropped to 71.7% in 2020. The average inflation-adjusted teacher salary in the state went from $63,578 in 2002 to $61,406 in 2020.

“Across the U.S., public school funding has risen considerably, and much of these dollars have gone to two things: staffing up and covering the costs of pension liabilities,” Smith said. “Even in states where student enrollment fell, public schools still added staff to their payrolls. This trend was driven primarily by non-teachers such as classroom aides, guidance counselors, and assistant principals. For every five new students that enrolled, public schools in the U.S. hired about one non-teacher.”

The bulk of Ohio’s per-student revenue comes from local sources, which has increased annually following a dip in 2013. The state provides the next highest dollar amount, with federal money making up a small portion of school money.

While per-pupil spending has grown and teachers’ salaries have fallen, student fourth- and eighth-grade reading tests have remained the same. Math scores increased by 3 points for fourth-graders and 4 points for eighth-graders.

“Ohio’s student outcomes were a mixed bag,” Smith said. “For example, eighth graders fared well in reading and math overall, but the state’s low-income students didn’t show much growth at all. Ohio policymakers should look at what states such as Florida are doing. The Sunshine State was near the bottom in funding growth but fared remarkably well in student outcomes. Research indicates that this is in part attributed to school choice policies that have positive competitive effects. Public schools get better when they have to compete for students.”

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