Comparative Public School Spending from FY 1997 to FY 2019: In New York The More They Get, the More They Feel Entitled To, and The Less They Provide in Return

Let’s start this post the way the prior one ended, with the quote from the ACLU, referring to the level of public school funding in New York in FY 2019.

Every year, the government of New York shirks its legal responsibility to adequately fund our public schools.

In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled New York was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by not putting enough money into its schools. The court ordered that schools were entitled to $5.5 billion more in unrestricted state funding, known as Foundation Aid….

But year after year, state lawmakers substituted politics for the Foundation Aid Formula, shortchanging schools and hurting students who need the money most.

That is, simply put, not true.  In the 1990s New York City school spending was low, in part because a state school aid formula discriminated against the city’s children.  Judge Leland DeGrasse ordered the city’s school aid to be increased by $1.9 billion, based on the low funding levels of the time.

As a trial judge, he ruled against New York’s system for financing public schools in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State. Ultimately, the decision, which sought to overhaul the state aid-to-education formulas, was appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which resulted in an additional $1.9 billion in state aid awarded to New York City schools.

I know this history because I provided data to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the same kind of data that will be discussed below.  Much to my disappointment, however, CFE turned out not to be interested in either fiscal equity or better schools – just a richer deal for those working in the public school system.  So despite another $1.9 billion (and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion) they kept suing. In exchange for political support for his election for Governor, Eliot Spitzer then settled the suit for even more money.  No judge ever ordered it, or found that was what was required. It was a political deal, with a massive increase in pension benefits for teachers as part of the same deal, not better education.

That deal, which multiplied by a bunch of prior retroactive pension increase deals (now starting up yet again), was for me a kind of last straw. So what was the level of school spending in NYC, by category and compared with other places and the past, in FY 2019 when the ACLU claimed that the people of New York were cheating those who worked in education out of $billions?  Read on and find out.


My prior post contains spreadsheets with tables and charts of average per-student revenues and expenditures for the U.S., New York City, every school district in the rest of New York State, adjacent states, and selected states and school districts of interest elsewhere.

But for those who prefer pictures of numbers to actual numbers, here are three of the tables.

And for those who prefer charts to pictures of numbers, here is a chart showing what was written at the start of the prior post.

In FY 2019, the New York City school district spent $31,578 per student.  That was more than double the U.S. average of $15,569, and higher than the averages of $29,451 for the Downstate NY Suburbs, $22,782 for New Jersey, $19,707 for Massachusetts, and $23,686 for Connecticut.  These are high-wage high-cost of living areas on the Northeast Corridor, but adjusted downward for this factor New York still spent $24,764 per student, still 59.1% higher than the U.S. average and higher than the $23,906 for the Downstate Suburbs, similarly adjusted, and $23,622 for the Upstate Urban Counties.  The average for the Upstate Rural Counties, at $25,058, was slightly higher than NYC.  On instructional (ie. teachers) wages, salaries, and benefits alone, the New York City school district spent $18,229 per student.  That is $364,577 per 20 students, and $218,746 per 12 students.

If I were against teachers and/or public schools I would not make a downward adjustment for the cost of living and average wage here.  I would report the data as the revenue and expenditure data the way the Census Bureau provides it, per student.  But all the state and local government finances data I produce is so adjusted, one way or the other, to make NYC state and local government taxes and spending appear lower.  Even so, even after adjustment New York’s public school spending is still found to be sky-high, compared with the past (adjusted for inflation) and compared with other places outside NY State. The remaining charts will use the adjusted data.

The only areas that have spending levels comparable with New York City are other regions of New York State.  When the higher cost of living/average wage in Downstate NY is adjusted for, the average per-student school spending for these regions continues to be about the same.  But none of the other regions have average instructional (ie. teacher) wages, salary and benefit levels per student that are as high as New York City.  That is mostly due to higher retirement costs here.  

While New York City teachers are included in the New York City Teachers Retirement System (NYCTRS), teachers elsewhere in the state are in the New York State Teachers Retirement System (NYSTRS).  New York City taxpayers have contributed vastly more to NYCTRS over the decades than have residents of the rest of the state have to NYSTRS. Even so, NYSTRS is one of the best-funded public pension systems in the country, and NYCTRS one of the worst funded.  Despite the same New York State legislature setting the rules for both for more than four decades.  You can read about this and download the data here.

That same state legislature just passed an early retirement deal for New York City public employees only (many of whom commute in from the suburbs), not public employees who work in the rest of the state.

For instructional wages, salaries and benefits alone, the U.S. average for FY 2019 was $6,899 per student.  With downward adjustment the New York City average was $14,295, more than double the U.S. average, the Downstate Suburbs average was $13,250, and the New Jersey average was $8,379.  This compares with $12,483 in Upstate Urban Counties and $13,031 in the rural counties in the Rest of NY State. 

You don’t hear much about total instructional compensation in the media here.  What you do hear is that there is a teacher shortage because teachers are underpaid compared with other workers.  On instructional wages and salaries alone, NYC spent $8,658 per student in FY 2019, but the average for the Downstate Suburbs were higher on average at $9,169.  How do NYC’s teacher wages and salaries work out per teacher rather than per student?

We offer extremely competitive salaries to newly hired teachers. Salaries are based on prior experience as well as academic coursework and degrees earned. For 2019-20, starting salaries for teachers range from $57,845 (bachelor’s degree, no prior teaching experience) to $87,510 (master’s degree, eight years teaching experience, plus additional coursework). New teachers with a master’s degree but no prior teaching experience will earn $65,026. Teachers’ salaries increase each year with more experience and educational qualifications.

To what should that be compared?  How about the median pay of New York City residents according to the American Community Survey?

In 2019 the median for those with a Bachelor’s degree was $66,818.  The median for those with a graduate degree was $85,533.  These medians include those at the peak of their careers, not just those starting out.  They include supervisor and managers, not just workers.  They include everyone who works on Wall Street, every doctor, every lawyer, every coder working for Google.  Even so, NYC teachers can earn that much by the age of 30 – and more if they supervise extra-curricular activities or teach summer school, rather than take the summer off. 

With downward adjustments where appropriate (but no upward adjustments for Upstate, where the average private sector worker earns less than the U.S. average), the $15,569 in total elementary and secondary school expenditures per student for the U.S. compares with $24,722 for New York City and $22,877 for the Downstate Suburbs.  Among other states on the Northeast Corridor, the averages are $19,393 in New Jersey, $20,762 in Connecticut, and $15,242 in Massachusetts.  It should be noted that teachers in Connecticut and Massachusetts do not get Social Security, and those state’s teacher pension funds are severely underfunded.   Teachers should be complaining and demanding more tax increases there, not here.

The averages of $23,507 for the Upstate Urban Counties and $25,058 for the rural counties in the Rest of NY State compare with $15,362 for Ohio, $18,854 for Pennsylvania, and $17,847 for Vermont Districts with at least 500 students.  (Vermont maintains expenditures on a large number of districts with very few students, including quite a few with no students).

On a continuum between those who work in public education being cheated and exploited by other workers, and other workers being cheated and exploited by those who work in public education, New York is all the way off on one end.  By itself.  Nowhere else is close.  

“Big government” California?   Even without any adjustment, the average for that state is just $17,289 per student, with $18,753 for Los Angeles, $20,661 for San Diego, $20,872 for San Francisco, $20,435 for Menlo Park (home of the venture capital industry), and $25,985 for Palo Alto (home of Stamford University).  Compared with $31,578 (unadjusted) for New York City.   It isn’t as though the cost of living in California is low compared with here, although the tax burden is much lower.  California teachers do not get Social Security either, and unlike retired public employees in New York, their pension income is taxable by the California state income tax.  

The $31,578 in unadjusted per student spending for New York City is less than the $34,618 for Beverly Hills, but it is more than the $24,335 in Darien, $25,884 in Westport, and $31,262 in Greenwich, Connecticut, home of the hedge fund managers.

The following two charts use the exact same scale to show spending in FY 2007 and FY 1997, adjusted upward for inflation into $2019.

As far as I was concerned, New York City’s schools were well funded, and the state aid formula was fair, by the mid-2000s – before the 2008 retroactive pension increase.  Note how the total compensation per student of NYC instructional workers (ie. teachers) matched up with other parts of the state, while being higher than the U.S. average and other states.  

Other parts of the state spent more on non-instructional categories, with the schools acting as a high-end welfare program, one that expanded rapidly after Governor Pataki’s STAR program sent even more state aid to the suburbs and Upstate NY in the mid-1990s.  That had nothing to do with education, and there was no need for New York City to match it.  Under pressure from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, New York City’s share of state school aid finally equaled the city’s share of public school children in FY 2006, Pataki’s last year in office, and has exceeded it thereafter.  Upstate NY has been in economic decline.  NYC cannot ask it to do more than that.  The state aid formula was a complicated mess, but no longer unfair.

As for local funding, in 2002, New York City increased property taxes by 18 percent, in part to pay for the 2000 retroactive pension increase, in part to increase the cash pay of NYC teachers by 20 percent.  It had been found that NYC teachers were low paid, but also spent less time with children than teachers just about anywhere else. One teacher once told me that the goal of every NYC teacher was to get out of the classroom, to a no-work or low-work administrative post.  But as part of the pay increase deal teachers were required to spend more time teaching, including providing children who fell behind with extra help after school.  

After these changes, there were a few years during which I had faith the city’s schools would improve.

In 2007, however, I was shocked to find out that New York City had its own unfair school formula, a complicated set of allocations that in the end directed more city funding per student to schools with better off and White children, as I wrote at the time.  

Opposition To the Mayor’s School Funding Plan: Total Incomprehension

That’s where high-quality, higher-paid veteran teachers transferred, while Black and Hispanic kids got lower-paid green novices and those pushed to transfer out of the schools of the better off in the “dance of the lemons.”

Re-elected, and not expecting to run again due to term limits, Mayor Bloomberg dared to admit this and propose a new “fair student funding” system within the city – over the objections of the United Federation of Teachers. They UFT succeeded in getting it postponed.  It was only implemented after 15 years – eight under Mr. Tale of Two Cities Racial Justice Mayor Bill DeBlasio – and only in a budget with virtually unlimited money coming in from Washington.

New York’s “progressives” can’t blame Governor Cuomo, the suburbs, Upstate New York, “the $billionaires,” Trump or the Republicans for that.

In FY 2019, the same people were saying the same things about New York’s schools being cheated out of $billions as they were in FY 1997.  But note how much lower those columns are in FY 1997.  Compared with the $24,772 per student NYC spent in FY 2019 (adjusted), it spent just $11,630 back in FY 1997 – less than half!  Adjusted for inflation, NYC spending per student has more than doubled! 

Moreover, the $14,295 per student on instructional wages, salaries and benefits for FY 2019 compares with just $6,071 in FY 1997 – far more than doubling.   That is more than doubling after the FY 1997 figures had been adjusted upward for inflation.

Back in FY 1997 New York City’s $6,071 in instructional compensation for teachers was already more than the U.S. average of $5,207, but it was below the $8,787 for the Downstate Suburbs, the $7,753 for the Upstate Urban Counties, and the $8,203 for the rural counties in the Rest of New York State. No one was arguing the schools elsewhere in New York State were bad, or underfunded, at the time.  

Despite much lower spending, one didn’t find the same arrogance and entitlement and ever-escalating demands from NYC’s United Federation of Teachers back in the mid-1990s that one finds today.  It was more like Oliver Twist – please may I have more gruel!  Today, meanwhile, one does not find that level of arrogance and contempt for taxpayers and other services in other states where the tax burden, and school spending, are far lower, and have been doing down. It seems that whoever has taken more therefore feels entitled and emboldened to demand more still, instead of being grateful for the great deal they have at other people’s expense. In part because no one will stand up and tell them they have taken too much (or not put enough in) and have been unfair.  Not here.  Not there.  Not now.  Not then.

In New York, the goodwill of other workers toward public employees, particularly those in certain categories like teachers, has been abused rather than reciprocated.

Back in FY 1997 one of the arguments against shifting state school funding to NYC public schools, by conservatives and school districts elsewhere in New York, was that money was squandered on non-teaching by the corrupt and incompetent Board of Education at 110 Livingston Street.  

The city’s school custodians were the subject of a 60 Minutesinvestigation.  It is the first story in this video from 1992.

Meanwhile the private school bus companies had contracts that automatically renewed at higher and higher rates, and were among the largest campaign contributors to members of the New York City Council.

In his showdown with striking school bus workers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly cited what seems like an astronomical figure: yellow bus service costs, on average, $6900 per child a year. That’s twice as much as Los Angeles spends per child.

The reasons are complicated. But they have to do with an industry that’s enjoyed an unusual monopoly for decades, as contracts got renewed again and again without competitive bidding; a union whose former president was sent to prison because of ties to organized crime; the growing number of students who depend on busing; and school bus routes that are considered highly inefficient.

The data shows that New York City (after adjustment and in $2019) did spend somewhat more per student on these activities per student than the national average back in FY 1997, at $909 vs. $897 for Operation and Maintenance of Plant and $547 vs. $384 for student transportation.  But not that much more.  (For student transportation NYC spending per student actually transported was sky high because a higher share of NYC kids walk to school).  

And yet the really sky-high non-instructional spending per student, compared with the U.S. average, was in other parts of the state.  Compared with the $547 per student NYC spent on custodians, the averages were $1,339 in the Downstate Suburbs, $1,092 in the Upstate Urban Counties, $1,046 in the Rest of New York State, and $1,220 in New Jersey. For student transportation, the $547 in NYC compared with $775, $784, $747, and $596 respectively.

That was the case to an even greater extent in other non-instructional categories – School Administration, General Administration, Instructional Staff Support, and Pupil Support. Despite the mythology of 110 Livingston Street, where the media reported there were scores of administrators with no known job responsibilities, New York City spent just $84 on General Administration (central offices) in FY 1997, adjusted for inflation into $2019, less than half the U.S. average of $189, and far below the Downstate Suburbs at $272, the Upstate Urban Counties at $173, the Rest of New York State at $298, and New Jersey at $337.  

There were many, many school superintendents in small districts the suburbs who earn as much or even more than the NYC school chancellor, and more still who earned more than the Governor.

Adding it up, and adjusted downward for the higher average wage/cost of living here, total NYC non-instructional spending per student was just $2,483 in $2019, far below the U.S. average of $3,169.  The Downstate Suburbs at $4,503, the Upstate Urban Counties at $3,911, the Rest of New York State at $3,887, and New Jersey at $4,184 were all far above the U.S. average. 

Same scale, also in $2019.  With the advent of Mayoral control of NYC schools, and the introduction of administrative efficiencies by former Mayor Bloomberg, NYC administrative spending fell further.  Bloomberg also tried to get a better deal on custodians by contracting some schools out, and a better deal from the school bus companies by changing routes and ending no-bid contracts.  The school bus companies responded by dropping handicapped kids at the wrong stops in the freezing cold. 

In FY 2007, New York City spent $3,227 per student in non-instructional categories, compared with the U.S. average of $4,184, $5,531 for the Downstate Suburbs, $5,578 for the Upstate Urban Counties, $5,646 for the Rest of New York State and $5,948 for New Jersey.

Despite this, when pension costs soared due to the 2008 retroactive pension increase for teachers, and city tax revenues fell due to the Great Recession, UFT head Mike Mulgrew demanded cuts in non-instructional spending to keep money flowing to his members.  Similar to the “defund the police, fund schools” posters I’ve been seeing around Park Slope and Windsor Terrace recently.  To get more money to those cashing in and moving out, the UFT has shown itself to be willing to throw everyone else under the bus, from the school bus companies to other public employees and even its own later-hired members.

No matter.  Under the administration of Mayor DeBlasio NYC per student non-instructional spending has soared to more than the U.S. average, even with a downward adjustment for the cost of living, albeit to still less than the gravy trains in other parts of New York State.    With far more out of classroom assignments for NYC “teachers,” now in the School Administration category, and far more money for custodians and school bus companies, some of which have been bailed out and taken over.   

Adding it up and with the downward adjustment, the FY 2019 non-instructional total per student was $4,602 for the U.S., $4,942 for New York City, $6,591 for the Downstate Suburbs, $6,679 for the Upstate Urban Counties, $6,981 for the Rest of New York State, and $6,664 for New Jersey.

One of the few budgetary positives for the New York City schools, the high share of per student spending that actually went to teachers, has been reversed during the DeBlasio Administration, with “teachers” among the beneficiaries.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, however, was about increasing revenues, not actually getting anything for them.  These revenues, unlike the expenditures, include money for charter school and private school payments, are therefore off per student (since they are divided by district students alone).  Based on what we have however, in FY 2019 New York City had (unadjusted) $12,341 in state aid per student, slightly above the NY State average of $11,853.  The Downstate Suburbs averaged $8,999, with $12,512 for the Upstate Urban Counties and $14,518 for the Rest of New York State. 

With downward adjustment for the cost of living, New York City’s state aid per student in FY 2019 was $9,678, still well above the U.S. average of $7,309.  The average for the Downstate Suburbs was only slightly lower than the U.S. average at $7,057 following that adjustment.  The average for New Jersey was $8,978.

Local school revenue per student is sky-high on average in New York State, especially in New York City, but only because so much money is spent. The rural counties in the Rest of New York State could, on average, outspend the U.S. average per student without a single dollar of local taxes.  After downward adjustment, New York City’s local revenue per student was $16,310 in FY 2019, more than double the U.S. average of $7,399 – and far more than the totalNYC expenditure per student back in FY 1997, at $11,630 (in $2019).  That is also close to the total NYC expenditure per student in FY 2007, at $18,020, a level of expenditure that was more than adequate.

Adjusted for inflation, New York City’s state aid per student doubled – doubled! From FY 1997 to FY 2007.  The Campaign for Fiscal Equity had decided not to try to achieve fiscal equity, which critics derided as a “Robin Hood plan.”  Instead they came out of in favor of more school money (and higher taxes and less spending on other things) for everybody!  Therefore state aid per student also increased by 66.8% for the Downstate Suburbs, 66.4% for the Upstate Urban Counties, and 48.2% for the Rest of New York State, during those years.  

With Mayor Bloomberg jacking up property taxes, local revenues per student also increased massively in New York City from FY 1997 to FY 2007, by 58.5%, while increases elsewhere in the state were more restrained.  The increases were 11.2% for the Downstate Suburbs, 17.4% for the Upstate Urban Counties, and 20.8% for the Rest of New York State.

Although federal education aid remains a small part of the education funding picture in New York, NYC also benefitted from the big increases associated with the “No Child Left Behind Act” during these years.  Nationwide federal aid per student, adjusted for inflation, increased 70.5% from FY 1997 to FY 2007, nearly doubling.  The increase for New York City was 74.9%, with gains of 75.9% for the Downstate Suburbs, 87.5% for the Upstate Urban Counties, 105.5% for the Rest of New York State (an actual doubling), and 69.7% for New Jersey.

At this point, New York City’s school funding increase advocates should have concluded that taxpayers, and recipients of other public services, had more than met their obligations to public education.  Instead, they were emboldened to demand more, and more, and more, and more from people whose incomes where going down, and whose other public services that were being cut as their taxes increased.  

From FY 2007 to FY 2019, New York City’s state school aid per student increased by an additional 12.3%, more than the U.S. average of 8.5%.  With the city booming, and temporarily becoming richer compared with the rest of the state, there were larger increases of 18.2% for the Downstate Suburbs, 25.9% for the Upstate Urban Counties, and 25.1% for the Rest of New York State.  

With New York’s state and local government tax burden already the highest in the country per $1,000 of personal income, Governor Cuomo trying to prevent it from going higher, and with the United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers dominating and controlling the state legislature (by threatening that there might be real elections if they didn’t get what they wanted, the way Local 1199 and the Greater NY Hospital Association did in the 1990s and early 2000s), all other state spending was squeezed to pay for this.  Notably infrastructure, public health, and unemployment insurance administration.  This came back to haunt the state in the past two years.

At the federal level, “No Child Left Behind” was replaced by “Every Child Succeeds” — even if they don’t so there would be less pressure on unionized teachers.  More funding with accountability to get something for it has been replaced by more federal funding per student compared with FY 1997 (but not with FY 2007) without such accountability.  Nationwide federal school aid per student increased by just 1.9% more from FY 2007 to FY 2019. Since federal funding is based on formulas, and NYC got richer compared with the rest of the country during those years, NYC’s federal aid per student fell 9.7%, compared with increases of 17.5% for the Downstate Suburbs, 7.1% for Upstate Urban Counties, 22.3% for the Rest of New York State, 15.5% for New Jersey, and 33.1% for Connecticut.

To keep NYC school spending soaring even more, therefore, the city’s local revenue per student, adjusted for inflation, increased by another 112.4% from FY 2007 to FY 2019.  It more than doubled!  You might have read in the media that the City of New York had done its share for its “underfunded” schools, but that the State of New York had not.  The demand was for state funding to double as well from FY 2007 to FY 2019 – but state funding per student had already doubled from FY 1997 to FY 2007!  Ever more entitled, the UFT felt it could demand that inflation-adjusted state funding per student quadruple— at a time when most people’s inflation-adjusted wages were falling.  But local per student spending went up elsewhere around the region as well, though not to the same degree, and the U.S. average went up 29.8%. 

With inflation-adjusted federal and state funding per student doubling and nearly doubling, respectively, from FY 1997 to FY 2007, New York City’s total public school expenditures per student increased by 54.9% after adjustment for inflation, more than the U.S. average of 30.3%, and more the increases of 23.8% for the Downstate Suburbs, 38.3% for the Upstate Urban Counties, 33.2% for the Rest of New York State, 41.0% for New Jersey, and 38.1% for Connecticut.

And with inflation-adjusted local funding per student more than doubling from FY 2007 to FY 2019, New York City’s spending per student increased by another 37.4%, That is more than the U.S. average of 9.3%, and more than the increases of 22.6% for the Downstate Suburbs, 23.2% for the Upstate Urban Counties, 29.0% for the Rest of New York State, 9.5% for New Jersey, and 36.0% for Connecticut.

For the entire FY 1997 to FY 2019 period, New York City public school expenditure per student soared 112.9%, more than doubling, as noted.  At the beginning of the period, there were reports in the media that the schools were being cheated out of $billions. And at the end of the period there were the same claims, claims that no politician or media source dared to challenge.  

Imagine some good or service provided by the private sector more than doubling in price, adjusted for inflation, at a time of overall wage stagnation (at best).  What would progressives and consumer advocates have to say about that?

In fact, as I showed here New York City’s median gross rent increased by 40.0%, adjusted for inflation, from 2000 to 2019.

This was rightly thought of as something terrible for the people of NYC, especially those without special deals such as public housing or rent regulated apartments.  But that percentage rent increase was less than half the increase in what the NYC schools cost per student.  

Of course many NYC renters pay half their income in rent, whereas total NYC public school expenditures were only 5.0% of the total personal income of all city residents at the 2019, pre-recession pre-pandemic income peak. But here in New York, it is safe to say that public education has joined housing and health care in the race to capture 100 percent of everyone’s income, leaving the serfs to starve.  

Health care, education and housing are three services that are substantially financed, subsidized and regulated by the government. Public education in New York, compared with other places, is the equivalent of health care in the United States compared with developed countries with universal health care systems – but far lower costs.

One factor in how low NYC school spending per student was in FY 1997, and how high it is now, is changes in enrollment.  In 1997 almost the entire relatively large Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, was school-aged.  Enrollment soared as the children of the Baby Boomers swarmed into schools. But in politics, government spending is thought of as a way to reward interest groups, not to provide actual services.  So rising need doesn’t mean rising funding.

From 1997 to 2019, with the Millennials exiting school, U.S. school enrollment increased just 6.0%, while NYC school enrollment fell 9.7%. As the now-adult Millennials swarmed into the NYC labor force, mass transit ridership soared (until 2015) at the same time.  But despite this shift in need school spending kept rising while (as was the case for the schools before 1997) there was no commensurate increase in transit funding.  What mattered wasn’t actual facts and public services, but the political dominance of the United Federation of Teachers compared with the Transit Workers Union, which has to be content with being allowed (by Governor Cuomo) to do a worse job rather than get more total funding.  

Since total enrollment is down by 9.7% in New York City, universal pre-K is not as much a reason for rising spending as is pretended.  The additional four year olds are just taking the place of Millennials who are no longer there in upper grades. Basically, universal pre-K, universal 3K, and additional out of classroom assignments are a way to keep a growing number of teachers on the payroll – and paying UFT dues — even as the number of children goes down.

The public schools are even more of a high-end welfare program for the politically powerful in Upstate New York, where enrollment is down 13.2% in the urban counties and 23.2% in the rural counties.  But in 2019 (actually 2018 in this data) enrollment was 5.7% higher in the Downstate Suburbs than in 1997 (actually 1996), and 10.6% higher in New Jersey.  Though even these areas had declining enrollment from 2006 to 2019. Charter school enrollment has also risen as much as it is allowed.  The data implies NY metro area parents are voting with their feet.

So where did all that additional school spending go?

From FY 1997 to FY 2007, New York City’s instructional benefit payments per student soared by 129.5%.  The big factors were soaring health insurance costs, the 1995 retroactive pension increase, the 2000 retroactive pension increase, and a long series of early retirement incentives for teachers, which caused payouts by NYCTRS to soar.  Early retirement, at age 55 rather than 62, not only increases pension contributions, but also requires city taxpayers to pay for expensive retiree health insurance for 10 years before Medicare picks up much of the tab, instead of just three.  

From FY 2007 to FY 2019, New York City’s instructional benefits payments per student soared another 73.2%.  The big factor was the 2008 retroactive pension deal that provided an opt-in for age 55 retirement after 25 years of work, with no additional contributions for those cashing in immediately and very little for the rest, for every teacher then on the payroll.

For the entire period from FY 1997 to FY 2019 NYC instructional employee benefits per students increased by 297.6% after adjustment for inflation. They quadrupled, despite the inflation of another stock market bubble that has given the City of New York an excuse to shift some of the cost of these past pension deals, described as “costing nothing” at the time, to the further future (when the bubble deflates).  And despite a failure to pre-fund the additional retroactive pension increases that the UFT is sure to order its state legislators to enact in the future.

Instructional benefits per student soared almost everywhere else too, but nowhere as much as in NYC.  And while both factors were present almost everywhere, in NYC the increases were entirely the result of soaring benefits, not prior underfunding of the benefits that had been promised to begin with.  Whereas elsewhere today’s taxpayers are being forced to pay for pension contributions, plus interest, that past taxpayers should have made decades ago.  As I showed here, using Census Bureau data over the decades, no taxpayers have paid more for public employee pensions than the taxpayers of NYC, and few places are even close.

The rich pension benefits many public employees receive are often described as fair offsets for the lower cash pay they are forced to accept, compared with similar private sector workers.  So one might assume that if pension benefits were enriched, and pension costs soared, this would be offset by lower cash pay.  

That was not the case for NYC instructional employees (ie. teachers). Their wages and salaries per student increased by 54.6%, adjusted for inflation, from FY 1997 to FY 2007, far more than the U.S. average of 16.8%, the 13.6% for the Downstate Suburbs, the 19.1% for the Upstate Urban Counties, the 19.4% for the Rest of New York State, and the 18.1% for New Jersey.  

The large increase for New York City was in part due to the early 2000s deal to increase teacher pay by 20.0% in one year, in exchange for fewer out of classroom assignments, and less out of classroom time.

After the 2008 retroactive pension increase, multiplied by prior pension increases, caused teacher pension costs to soar further, and school services and other services to be cut, then-Mayor Bloomberg tried to reverse course and force teachers to pay for some of it in lower pay or higher productivity.  In response, the United Federation of Teachers refused to negotiate a new contract until Mayor DeBlasio, who (like Mayor Bloomberg when he agreed to the 2008 pension increase deal) was hoping for UFT support for a run for President, took office.   DeBlasio then agreed to additional wage increases in excess of inflation, and NYC instructional wages and salaries per student increased by another 20.4% from FY 2007 to FY 2019.  

With pension costs soaring elsewhere as well, however, the U.S. average increase in instructional wages and salaries per student was just 1.2%, and the New Jersey increase was just 1.9%.  So soaring pension costs did cause cash pay increases to be somewhat restrained elsewhere.  NYC’s 20.4% increase was also greater than the 16.5% increase for the Downstate Suburbs, the 13.5% increase of the Upstate Urban Counties, and the 11.7% for the Rest of New York State.  

After a new pension tier with lower benefits for new hires was enacted in 2012, moreover, DeBlasio could have insisted that earlier hired teachers with richer benefits and lower employee contributions accept lower wages, compared with the disadvantaged teachers in pension Tier VI, evening out the generational inequities.  He did not – the teachers who had received retroactive pension increases got the same wage increases as new teachers in Tier VI, spiking their pension benefits further.

The UFT is one of the few unions that allow retired members to vote in union elections.  After Tier VI passed, it changed its voting rules to increase the weight of the retired, who now outvote working teachers in those elections.  In addition to the retired, it is probably the case that more entitled, less productive, and more resentful active teachers are more likely to vote in union elections.  Leading to a situation in which the UFT as a whole has been far more selfish than the average teacher is as an individual.

Overall, for the entire FY 1997 to FY 2019 period, NYC’s instructional wages and salaries per student, adjusted for inflation, increased by 86.1%, nearly doubling.

Part of this is an increase in the number of teachers compared with the number of students, as Mayor DeBlasio cut political deals with the UFT to reverse the productivity gains teachers had agreed to in exchange for the 20.0% wage increase in the early 2000s.  More para-professionals were hired, out of classroom administrative assignments increased, in-classroom time was decreased, and extra help after school was eliminated.  

In the Census Bureau’s public employment data set, unlike the public education finances dataset, “instructional” includes all school employees considered “pedagogical,” not just teachers but also with principals, other administrators, guidance counselors, etc.  

Nationwide, the number of students per instructional employee decreased from 11.7 in 1997 to 10.3 in 2007, as the Millennials exited school but the staff was not cut as quickly, before falling slightly to 10.1 in 2019. For New York City, however, there were just 7.3 students per instructional employee in 2019, down from 8.3 in 2007 and 10.6 in 1997.  Compare that with the average class size, and wonder what all those people are doing.  

The same question may be asked elsewhere in NY State, as 2019 students per instructional employee came in at just 7.3 for the portion of New York State outside New York City, 8.1 in New Jersey, 7.2 in Connecticut, 7.4 in Massachusetts, and 6.2 in Vermont, all down sharply from 1997, and all prior years.

With the increase in single-parent families, and two-parent families, teachers provide child care as well as education.   That has been a big increase in the benefit that the school system provides, and a big increase in productivity, over the past 50 years.  But with NYC teachers spending four hours per day or less with children, and having extensive sick leave as well, more teachers are required to cover the full six hour school day.  

With the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning, however, parents lost the child care component of what the city’s schools provide, and the quality of education was drastically reduced as well.   Despite this, and despite how many “instructional” workers were already employed compared with the number of students, the NYSUT/UFT cashed in on the pandemic tragedy by demanding additional dues paying members.

New York City’s school reopening plans are still missing a key ingredient: enough teachers.  A staffing crunch has forced the country’s largest school system to delay reopening school buildings for the second time. Estimates are that the city needs thousands more teachers — it’s not clear how many — to fill virtual and in-person classrooms.

After initially saying that teachers in out of classroom assignments could be shifted to teaching, “President” DeBlasio agreed. He also agreed to a no-layoff guarantee in exchange for “nothing” in a scripted one-day “negotiation” in which he at first demanded that teacher wage increases be deferred and then agreed to pay them.

October 9th

The city’s largest teachers union is headed to arbitration with the city’s Department of Education after the agency informed educators that it cannot make the final installment to decade-old backpay.

On October 10th

New York City and its teachers union struck a deal Friday to secure a $900 million back-pay payout the de Blasio administration had attempted to cancel just a day earlier.  The United Federation of Teachers and City Hall agreed to pay out half of the $900 million payment this fiscal year and the second half in the following fiscal year.  The union also extracted a pledge from the city to not layoff any teachers this year and cemented a previously agreed-upon 3 percent pay hike on May 14, 2021.

DeBlasio also agreed, and the UFT ordered its state legislature to enact, another early retirement incentive for NYC teachers, presumably those who somehow missed the 2008 deal.  In order to “prevent layoffs” that taxpayers have guaranteed will not occur, even as city school enrollment plunges.

In another sign of how deeply the coronavirus pandemic has rocked the nation’s largest school system, kindergarten applications in New York City have dropped 12% this year, according to education department figures released Thursday.

Just under 55,500 families applied to kindergarten for the 2021-22 school year, down from almost 63,000 the year prior.

Enrollment has trended downwards in New York City in recent years, with lower birthrates and more students heading to charters. But the pandemic seems to have hastened the drop, and it’s clear some families have left the city, which not long ago was the world’s epicenter of the virus.

Here and across the country, some of the steepest enrollment declines have been among the youngest learners. New York City’s total enrollment dipped about 4% this school year, dragging the number of students to below 1 million. The drop in kindergarten was even higher, at 9%.

New York City’s media supported the pension increase – by not reporting it, or raising it in the Mayoral campaign.

Despite the rising wages for the rising number of teachers relative to the number of students, instructional benefit costs have soared as a percent of soaring instructional wages and salaries.  From 30.5% of NYC instructional wages and salaries in FY 1997, instructional benefits increased to 45.3% in FY 2007 and 65.1% in FY 2019. There were increases elsewhere, with the nationwide increase from 23.1% to 29.3% to 38.1%.  But compared with the 65.1% of for NYC, FY 2019 instructional benefit costs were just 44.5% of wages and salaries for the Downstate Suburbs, 50.1% in the Upstate Urban Counties, 54.2% for the Rest of New York State, 32.6% for New Jersey, 26.4% for Connecticut, 23.9% for Massachusetts, and 31.8% for Vermont districts with at least 500 students.

This at a time when more and more private sector positions in NYC – 26.5% in 2019 according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis – are freelance, contract, or gig economy with no employer-provided benefits at all.

Adding it up, total instructional (teacher) compensation (wages, salaries and benefits) per student increased 72.1% from FY 1997 to FY 2007, and then another 36.8% from FY 2007 to FY 2019, exceeding the U.S. average gains of 22.6% and 8.1%.  The gains for the Downstate Suburbs were 21.9% followed by 23.7%, for Upstate Urban Counties 32.4% followed by 21.6%, for the Rest of New York State 32.7% followed by 21.2%, and for New Jersey 23.1% followed by 10.7%.  

For the entire FY 1997 to FY 2019 period, NYC instructional compensation per student increased by 135.5%, far more than doubling at a time when most workers saw falling inflation-adjusted compensation compared with prior generations.

Teachers were a major contributor to the fact that in 2019, as measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the mean earnings (including benefits) of state and local government workers in Downstate New York exceeded that of the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors, as I showed here.

Government workers aren’t richer on average than Wall Street workers because people are getting rich in the Parks Department, I can tell you that.

In exchange for that increase in compensation, and that level of staffing, New York State has a teacher shortage because teachers are underpaid and expectations are too high.  Or at least that is one believes based on what is heard and read in the media.

New York State has a teacher shortage, and the growing deficiency of available teachers is only made worse by the pandemic. 

According to NYSUT, New York State United Teachers, enrollment in New York state’s teacher education programs has declined by 50.4 % since 2009…

Franz said recently teaching has gotten a “bad rep,” and the pressures of mandated testing, data collection, and the added jobs that teachers are required to do are all contributing factors.

As in the late 1990s, when there really was a teacher shortage, the response to this made up teacher shortage is an early retirement incentive, this time for NYC only.  This sort of propaganda is repeated in the media over and over and over again. No elected official has dared to challenge it since the UFT put Governor Cuomo in his place.

On a straight dollars per student, rather than percentage, basis, one can see the DeBlasio effect.  Instructional wages and salaries and instructional benefits per student continued to soar in NYC from FY 2007 to FY 2019, by $1,465 and $2,383 respectively. (Adjusted for inflation, and adjusted downward for the cost of living here).  That is more than elsewhere, although the gains elsewhere in New York State are also large.  Nationwide, with instructional benefit costs soaring by $457 per student, instructional wages and salaries increased by just $57 per student.

The DeBlasio effect is this.  NYC non-instructional spending soared by $1,963 per student from FY 2007 to FY 2019.  That compares with $537 for the U.S., $1,169 for the Downstate Suburbs, $1,279 for the Upstate Urban Counties, $1,575 for the Rest of New York State, $983 for New Jersey.  As in the case of instructional, much of this increase in non-instructional spending is on the early retired – even for services contracted out such as school buses, since NYC bailed out the pensions.

But New York City’s students per non-instructional worker also plunged – from 33.1 in 1997 and 32.4 in 2007 to just 19.5 in 2019.  After having had relatively low non-instructional employment for decades, in part because services such as school buses and food services are contracted out, New York City now has fewer students per non-instructional employee than the U.S. average of 23.4, New Jersey at 24.3, Connecticut at 24,0, Massachusetts at 27.7, Pennsylvania at 24.0, and Vermont at 20.8.  This is a stunning turn of events.  Universal pre-K, as mentioned, was just getting more students in to replace falling enrollment as a smaller generation replaced the Millennials, not an increase in children served.  This is who the DeBlasio Administration served in reality.

The finance data, unlike the employment data above, breaks out non-teaching “pedagogical” workers into non-instructional categories as well. And thus we see the massive FY 2007 to FY 2019 increase in the School Administration category for NYC, by $543 per student, thanks to all those additional out of classroom assignments. More teachers retired, and more teachers not teaching, that’s what “school reform” turned out to be in NYC.  NYC School Administration was not high before now.  In the categories that were already high, NYC Operation and Maintenance of Plant (custodians) spending increased by $665 per student, and Student Transportation spending increased by $280. Adjusted downward, and adjusted for inflation.  Far more than elsewhere.  

On a percentage basis, NYC inflation-adjusted cost of living adjusted Operation and Maintenance of Plant expenditures per student increased by 33.2% from FY 1997 to FY 2007 and by 55.0% from FY 2007 to FY 2019.  The increases for Student Transportation were 60.3% and 31.9%.  

I didn’t have a percent chart for School Administration carried over from prior years to re-use, because it was never an issue before.  New York City’s School Administration expenditures per student increased 64.7% from FY 1997 to FY 2007.  People might remember the hiring of all those “parent coordinators” during the Bloomberg Administration.  This was followed by an increase of 121.4% — more than doubling – from FY 2007 to FY 2019.  For the entire FY 1997 to FY 2019 period, spending in this category increased by 264.7%, nearly quadrupling.

I’ve say for years, actually for decades, in response to conservative critics of spending on the poor in NYC that the rest of the state was using excess school spending, paid for in part by city residents, as a luxury-class welfare program for the politically connected.  Which was, and is, true.  But now it is true in New York City as well, a luxury-class welfare program that is also paid for by city residents, with many of the beneficiaries driving in from the suburbs – or on the past year not even doing that.

The increases in NYC school spending per student have far exceeded the increases in NYC and U.S. worker wages or income.   Everyone and everything else has been made worse off to pay for everything those who work for the schools have taken, adding to the squeeze from higher rents, higher health care costs, and falling private sector wages.  

Mayor DeBlasio, Governor Cuomo, the state legislature, and the City Council are supposed to be negotiating with public unions and government contractors on behalf of everyone and everything else.  In reality, they simply cut unjust mutual back scratching political deals of the kind CEOs make with their handpicked Boards of Directors, as described by this retired mechanic and YouTube star from 3:53 to 5:20.

The executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs. “Progressives” believe those in the political/union class should take more and more at the expense of the serfs. They dominate the New York State legislature.  “Conservatives” believe the executive/financial class should take more and more at the expense of the serfs. They control Congress in Washington.  Despite all the “partisanship” they seem able to cut deals.  Meanwhile, no one cares about the serfs, or is willing to tell them the truth, and no one cares about the future, other than caring about how fast they can benefit from cashing it in.  

Why aren’t you reading about comparative school spending and how it has changed in the New York Times, or on Gothamist, or on NYC Chalkbeat, and hearing about it on WNYC?   The Timesbasically stopped writing about the finances of the NYC schools after that big retroactive pension increase for teachers passed in 2008, and the other sources just parrot UFT/NYSUT press releases.

Here is one theory.  Politics has been nationalized, and what has been done to the people of New York City by the schools and their unions is enough to discredit progressives, the Democratic Party, public education, and even the entire public sector, nationally.  To the detriment of teachers and children in other states were public school spending, both in general and on teachers, is far lower.

And has been going down.

In the national culture wars, accurately reporting just how much the goodwill of the people of New York has been abused the public sector in general, and the public schools and their unions in particular, would be giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  So they don’t want to talk about it.  And so the sense of entitlement here grows, and grow, and grows.

Thanks to a deluge of borrowed money from Washington, the budget of the NYC schools – from the levels shown above – increased by more than 7.0% in FY 2021, and is proposed to increase by more than 7.0% in FY 2022, DeBlasio’s last two years as Mayor.  In exchange for, perhaps, a 70.0% cut in what the schools provided for NYC’s children, in education, activities, and child care.  Even the Alliance for Quality Education, which succeeded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, seems to have concluded that “fairness” has finally been achieved, at least as long as teachers are not required to come back to work.  So what the kids got this year is what they were going for all along, along with more money? Nearly one third refused to come in, even after teachers were moved to the front of the line for vaccines.  How many other New Yorkers died from that point to the point where vaccines became abundant?

So what to do with the extra money?  Here is the kind of phony, silly discussion going on outside the room.

The final budget sets aside $6.9 billion in federal relief to help New York City’s schools recover from a year of disrupted learning during the pandemic. That’s nearly $7,200 extra dollars per student.

The city must decide over the next three years how to spend the bulk of this one-time cash infusion — $4.8 billion from the stimulus package passed in March. It has until 2023 to earmark the rest of the it, from the December stimulus plan.

Just under $1 billion of New York City’s federal relief must go toward combating “learning loss.” New York City has announced a framework for helping students’ academically and emotionally next school year, but details such as cost have not been shared. The mayor is expected to disclose more specifics during his budget update later this month.

City leaders have already announced some investments. They plan to use some of it to expand preschool for 3-year-olds to every city district, though officials haven’t said how much that will cost. The city also used some of it to hold schools harmless for enrollment losses, avoiding having many schools start off next year in debt.

Some budget observers are wary that schools might use the jolt in dollars to build programs they can’t sustain once the federal dollars run out, though the promise of a Foundation Aid boost might temper those concerns.

And here is how those inside the room are already cutting deals to spend all that additional money and more.  The United Federation of Teachers endorsed the candidate for Mayor who adopted their demand, a demand that not even DeBlasio would meet, that there be two dues paying teachers for every classroom.  Presumably in light of recent events one of whom could be a “remote worker” who just check in on Zoom every now and then.

My proposal is for two teachers in every classroom, a master teacher and an assistant teacher. That would give kids in public school a real shot at intense one-on-one education — having two teachers that can deal with so many of the social issues, education issues in the classroom.

And the United Federation of Teachers wants temporary federal funding to be used for more teachers in “high needs schools” as a pilot project, presumably to be made permanent for all schools.  So more of the current teachers could stop teaching.  They deserve more money because NYC children have been fallen behind due to the 70.0% cut in the services they received from the schools.

The teachers union wants to earmark $1 billion to build teams at each school to provide academic intervention for students and assist with their mental health needs. The union also wants to pilot a program for smaller class sizes at 100 high-needs schools — a move that would require 1,500 new teachers.

Jasmine Gripper, executive director of Alliance for Quality Education, is also calling for more investments in social-emotional learning and smaller class sizes.

But governments must ensure they can financially support them once the federal help is gone so that districts aren’t, for example, “hiring more teachers now just to lay them off in two years,” she cautioned. Her organization has pushed the state to provide more funding for schools and supports raising taxes on ultra-wealthy New Yorkers.

And when that is not enough, everyone else.

Remember, there were already just 7.3 students instructional employee in the NYC schools in FY 2019.  It has almost certainly gone down more, and yet the UFT wants more still, because it is failing to meet the needs of high needs students at that ratio. God Forbid the quality of education in NYC was ever good, because they would no longer have that argument for even more money.

In addition to more active dues paying members, the UFT wants more early retired teachers. After I posted this link in a comment on another site, the UFT blocked it, but trust me this is what it said.

The state Legislature aligned with the UFT and included funding for an early retirement incentive in the final state budget. However, we must still reach an agreement with the mayor and the City Council. We hope we can reach an agreement that provides this well-deserved opportunity for many of our members. The UFT will work hard to negotiate these crucial details as quickly as possible.

But what about Tier VI?  How about allowing everyone to work just 25 years, with perhaps five in out of classroom assignments, and ten as a second teacher per classroom working remotely on Zoom, before retiring to low-tax Florida with a rich pension?

Whereas, new UFT members who join the Teachers’ Retirement System after March 31, 2012 are entered in Tier 6,

Whereas, members in Tier 6 contribute from 3% to 6% to their pensions as long as they work,

Whereas, members in Tier 6 cannot retire without very reduced benefits until reaching age 63 while making a higher contribution,

Whereas, many other city agencies such as police, fire, sanitation can retire with full pension after 22 years of service,

Whereas, the UFT, in the past, lobbied successfully for a 25-55 pension plan for Tier 4 members,

Whereas, the UFT, in the past, won other significant pension improvements in the NY State Legislature.

Resolved, that the UFT lobby the City and State to equalize and improve the Tier 6 pension and include all UFT members in this campaign.

They expect the legislature to follow their orders.

The idea of 55/25 itself hasn’t died in the hearts of the politicians. Not one bit. Our counterparts in the suburbs had a similar deal offered to them in 2010 with a 60 day window and pending district approval. See this legal notice update which refers to that offer.

25/55 deals were proposed in the New York Senate in 2015/16 and again in 2017/18.  And then just last Spring, a 25/55 bill actually passed the legislature (see here).

And if they got another massive pension increase that “cost nothing,” leading to even more tax increases and service cuts, would they finally say, OK, that’s fair and maybe we owe NYC’s children something?  Would the difference between what they get, what they provide in return, and the situation of the serfs finally reflect how much they matter, and how little everyone else matters?  

Note a comment on that post.

The problem with 25/55 is the 55 age aspect of it. If a teacher starts working at 22 years of age and works 25 years, he or she will only be 47 years old and will still have to work for 8 years before they can collect a pension. It seems to me that 25/55 deal is only a good deal for teachers who start their career later as opposed to right out of college. I agree with the poster above. We need a “25 and out” deal so teachers can work 25 years and then be able to retire even if they are not 55. I think the real reason the city won’t do that is that it costs a lot of money to give a 50% pension to a teacher who is not even 55 years old yet. I am correct on this line of thought?

Cheated out of $billions!   The attitude that New York’s teachers bring to work with them every single day.

Will any “progressive” New York City politician or media source dare to say otherwise?  Or would they rather just follow orders, and ban someone who would post charts similar to those above in the comment fields of online articles that parroted the assertion that the schools were cheated out of $billions?


This just in, on two postcards that came in the mail.

From candidate for City Council Brandon West.  As part of a “people’s budget,” he promises “we must reverse New York’s shameful disinvestment from public K-12 schools and CUNY.”  The situation shown in the data above is disinvestment?  And aren’t “the people” those who he believes should become worse off to pay even more to the public schools?

From Bridget Rein, candidate for City Council.  She has “real life experience:  teaching in the public schools and organizing New York City public school teachers.” She promises to “fully fund public schools.”  So the level of funding, as shown in the data above, is not full funding?  “On the City Council, she’ll continue standing up for hardworking Brooklyn families.”  By raising their taxes, cutting their services, or helping them move to the suburbs, where the teachers will be going?

They know that no media source will report on the gouging going on, and that no one will dare, dare to call them out on this, or else.  

The fact that the United Federation of Teachers has become so selfish, so incapable of “enlightened” self interest, so flat evil is one of the great disappointments of my life.  Especially when I stood up for higher school funding and teacher pay, by providing the very same data, back when it was low.  And volunteered in the city’s schools. The organization I volunteered with (which spelled my name wrong) no longer exists.  Which makes sense, because volunteering to help in the NYC schools is like volunteering to help out at Exxon or Goldman Sachs.  Or perhaps Blackwater.

It has made me question a lot of things.  For example, the idea that higher (cash) teacher pay would lead to better education, by attracting more capable and motivated teachers. But what happened in the industry that used to be the highest paid – Wall Street?  Yes sky-high pay attracted the capable and motivated. But it turns out that it was people who were capable of ripping everybody off, and motivated primarily by getting more and more money for themselves.  The quality of financial services actually went down, and there has been one government bailout after another of these highly-paid financiers.

I was a sucker, and we’ve been had.   Anyone else want to admit it?