Might public school enrollment increases explain the huge increase in public school employment in the rest of the state? Not exactly.
In 1990, the rest of New York State had 17.7 public school employees per 100 public school enrollees. New York City, despite a far needier and more troubled student body – and a reputation for over-staffed schools — made do with just 14.9.
From 1990 to 1998 public school enrollment soared in New York City, as the children of the baby boomers (the baby boom echo generation) and of immigrants entered their school years. With a fiscal crisis, a low share of state aid, and other priorities, however, the City’s public school employment did not keep up, and its ratio per 100 students fell 13.8 in the latter year. The low year, at just 12.2, was 1996, following the implementation of Governor George Pataki’s first budget – which cut state school aid to New York City and increased it for the rest of the state, cutting the city’s share of state school aid from 33.2% to 29.6% (New York City’s share of the state’s public school students was about 37%).
I remember that year well, as it was the year before my oldest child would have entered kindergarten. Down at the local elementary school there were 35 kids in the kindergarten class and no teaching supplies for a year. Not only were there fewer teachers, but the quality went down, as those hired prior to the 1970s fiscal crisis (when the City’s pay level was competitive) retired, and were replaced by whoever the City could get — a situation that would actually get worse as the economy improved and other jobs were more available. So we sent our kids to Catholic school, other friends who were parents left the city, and still others have spent the past decade fighting to get their children into the limited number of special deal schools where an education is actually on offer. For those children whose parents lacked those options, the quality of education, which had never recovered from the 1970s fiscal crisis at it was, became far worse.
After 1996 NYC’s schools began to hire who they could, and after 1998 enrollment began to fall. As a result, the number of public school employees per 100 students rose to 14.7. That is still lower than in 1990, though some of the decrease may be offset by increased contracting out. I’m not saying the city’s schools need more employees – I would rather have additional money go to more cash pay in exchange for more work by better quality teachers. But I am saying that this and other data show that the city’s reputation for a high level of wasteful public school employment outside the classroom is unjustified.
Enrollment rose in the rest of the state as well during the 1990s — and right through 2002 due in part to better off parents fleeing New York City and its schools. Outside the city, however, hiring more or less kept up through 1998, when there were 17.9 public school employees per 100 enrolled, slightly more than in 1990. But the cost of educating a rising number of children was burdensome to taxpayers. So the state decided to make those inside the city pay for a share of the rising costs outside the city, via the STAR program, a new form of state school funding of which the city gets little.
As a result, public school employment outside New York City has soared even faster, even as enrollment gains have slowed and then reversed. By 2003, public school employment per 100 students enrolled had risen to 19.4 in the rest of the state. In fact public school employment outside the city continues to rise each month on a year-over-year basis. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit seems to have only accelerated the trend, as school districts elsewhere seek to hire as many voting “facts on the ground” as possible to be “held harmless” while demanding that their state aid rise by as much as New York City’s, or even more, to help offset rising property taxes. An enhanced form of STAR, one that would have cut New York City’s share of state education funding further, was in fact proposed by the Governor and passed by the legislature this year, not becoming law only because the two could not agree on its details.
The local government employment boom in the rest of New York State has gone largely unremarked. Perhaps liberals and Democrats are in favor of spending anywhere they can get it, since it means more revenues for them and theirs, and thus have no reason to call attention to it. Republicans and conservatives railed for years against the “high’ level of public employment, and school employment, in New York City, but have been largely silent about soaring local government employment in the rest of the state – where they and theirs live. In fact, when I pointed out the big decrease in local government employment in New York City and increase in the rest of the state to one Manhattan Institute scholar, I was accused of what he called “James Parrotism,” selectively quoting data for one period of time that is the exception rather than the rule. But local government employment declines in New York City and increases in the rest of the state have been the rule, not the exception.
Once zapped as the parents of school-aged children, many New York City residents have been zapped again as state taxpayers, and it keeps getting worse. As for the Medicaid program, what is required is a fiscal system under which those who make the decisions about spending on the margin also have to come up with the funding on the margin. Not all the funding; just all of the funding on the margin. Had that been the case in the rest of New York State, the local government boom would not have happened.