Across the country taxpayer pension costs for public schools are soaring, and state and local taxes are being increased while money actually spent on education is being cut to pay for it. You see it in California, where a huge tax increase “for education” went exclusively to pensions, and in Illinois, where the City of Chicago’s schools are on the brink of bankruptcy. You see it in Kansas and Oklahoma. In some cases soaring pension costs are the result of past taxpayers’ unwillingness to fund the pensions teachers had been promised, promised for some in lieu of Social Security, which those teachers will not be eligible to receive. In other cases pension costs are soaring because politically powerful teachers’ unions cut deals with the politicians they controlled to drastically increase pension benefits, beyond what had been promised and funded. In many cases there is a mix of both factors.
New York City happens to be the place where the teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), is perhaps the most guilty, and taxpayers are the least guilty, with regard to the pension crisis. And it the place where the burden of teacher retirement is the greatest. The result is large class sizes despite extremely high public school spending, and a host of services that New York City children do not receive. With virtually all New York politicians in on the deals that have left the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (NYC TRS) among the most underfunded in the country, however, there has been a desperate attempt to cover up the damage. So the consequences of retroactive pension increases for NYC teachers (and police officers and firefighters) have shown up not so much in education (and policing and firefighting), but in every other public service in New York. And all of this is under Omerta.
If you live in New York State, there is a lawsuit that claims you have it too good. Your taxes are too low, despite being the highest in the country at the state and local level combined, and too much money is being spent on public services other than public schools, such as mass transit, social services, housing, parks, libraries, everything else. The lawsuit has been filed by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), funded in part by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s teachers’ union, and the NYSUT, the New York State teacher’s union. It claims that New York State residents have stolen $billions for people working in New York’s schools each and every year for more than a decade. And that as a result we are getting what we deserve: schools that are so bad that at least in New York City and Syracuse, they violate the state constitution.
Of course the AQE is claiming it is suing “the state,” not the people who live in it. But where would “the state” get the additional $billions that those working in education demand be spent on schools? From higher taxes and lower spending on other things, that’s where. The same place that the additional spending on schools that has happened in the past came from. And note that while the claim is that the schools are bad, there is no admission that perhaps that New Yorkers are being cheated by those who work for the public schools. Instead the assertion is the other way around – that those who work in the schools are being cheated by New Yorkers, because they aren’t being given the money they deserve. But how much are the schools getting getting? Let’s go to the Census Bureau’s public education finance data and find out.
Wait until next year! When the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2015 data on public education finance last month, I thought that instructional (ie. teacher) wages and benefits per 20 students in the New York City public schools might exceed $300,000 for that year. But instead it came it came up just short at $297,482. Moreover, total spending per student in the NYC schools also came up just short of Greenwich, Connecticut, at $25,068 compared with $25,737. Thought NYC did spend more per student than Westport ($23,798) or Darien ($20,805).
Those are among the tidbits that can be gleaned from my compilation of this data, for 2015 and (with an adjustment for inflation) 2005. As is my custom, I’m going to provide the spreadsheets now, think about them for a while, and then provide my analysis and express my opinion. The data presented includes revenues and expenditures per student, by category, for the U.S., New York City and other regions of New York State, selected other states, and every school district in New York and New Jersey. In some cases with and without an adjustment for the higher cost of living on the Northeast corridor, which reduces the value of school spending here compared with the U.S. average. A discussion of where the data comes from and how it was tabulated (mostly copied from last year) and links to the new spreadsheets, follow.
I was upset that a summary table that showed how much NYC spends on the largest government functions, including debt service and pensions, and how much of this is funded by locally-raised money, was removed from NYC’s “Budget Summary” documents.
But there is good news. The table, albeit without a column for spending by agency on judgments and claims and without a comparison with prior years, is back in a more detailed document that came out later, the latest “Message of the Mayor,” page 81.
And that allowed me to easily update the tables and charts I produced last year comparing FY2014, Mayor Bloomberg’s last budget year, with FY 2017, as proposed. A spreadsheet with the tables and charts for FY 2007, FY 2014 and FY 2018 as proposed is attached below.
But in the rest of this post, I’d like to review the “Unsaid” about Detroit’s bankruptcy and New York City’s recovery from the 1970s, and their relevance to NYC today. Because in my view, despite all that was written and said about those two past events, few have identified the most important reasons why they actually happened.
About a month ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released 2016 annual average employment data from the monthly Current Employment Survey. It isn’t the most detailed information with regard to local government, but it is the most timely, so I once again put together a series of charts showing the trends.
The data shows that after a period of austerity, local government employment is rising again in New York State. The increases are not large, and in New York City local government employment is still rising more slowly than private sector employment. But in the Rest of New York State the increase in the ratio of private employment to local government has halted. Moreover, elementary and secondary school employment, which soared in the Rest of New York State under former Governor George Pataki’s “everybody onto the payroll to get a pension” policies, is rising again despite (at least according to the latest data I’ve seen) falling school enrollment. And in New York City, private sector (but presumably mostly Medicaid-funded) home health care employment has soared at a pace and to a level that raises questions about what the heck is going on.
For the United States and most parts of it, the decade from FY 2004 to FY 2014 saw soaring public employee retirement costs, and weak growth for taxpayer income. In response to these trends state government assistance for public elementary and secondary schools fell relative to the income of all state residents, and total spending on public schools fell as a share of everyone’s income as well. But there was an offsetting factor. School enrollment fell as a share of the total population, and in many cases in absolute numbers, as the very large “Baby Boom Echo (Gen Y, Millennials) Generation exited school with smaller generations behind them.
At the same time, and perhaps driven by the same demographic shifts, state and local government spending on public higher education increased when measured per $1,000 of everyone’s personal income. But how did different states compare, and how was per-student elementary and secondary school spending affected? That is the subject of this post.
The Governments Division of the U.S Census Bureau released its detailed state and local finance data for FY 2014 on January 31, and I have compiled it and produced a couple of large tables – one for all state governments and one for all local governments by state – comparing that year with FY 2004. The data shows, by category, the amount of revenues (property taxes, federal aid), expenditures (public school spending, police department spending) and debt for every state in the country and, at the local government level, for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately.
To be comparable across states and across the years, the data is presented per $1,000 of the personal income of all the residents of each state. Think of it this way. Your household else spends X percent of its household budget on food, X percent on housing, etc. And, via the taxes and government fees you pay, X percent of its income on public schools, X percent on police, etc. The data is presented per $1,000 rather than as a percent to make the data for small categories easier to see. I plan to write a series of posts, with additional tables and charts, for different aspects of state and local government finance separately. But in the triumph of hope over experience, in this post I will explain where the data comes from and how it was compiled, provide the whole database for download up front, and invite people to look at the numbers themselves at the same time I do, and decide for themselves what the data means. Before getting my take on it.