Ryan Terrell: Teachers deserve more, but schools aren’t underfunded

This op-ed by State Board of Education member Ryan Terrell appeared in the Union Leader on January 2, 2023 and is reproduced below.

I, ALONG WITH most Granite Staters, agree that paying public school teachers higher wages would increase the quality of education for all children. However, systemic misuse of education funding is the primary reason public school teachers are underpaid. Specifically, school districts are choosing to value hiring non-teachers more than increasing teacher pay.

Furthermore, by constantly hiring more administration and consultants, progressive education policies rob students of receiving high-quality, equitable education and thwart public school teachers of the opportunity to earn more for their hard work.

The United States allocates a more significant share of its education spending to non-teaching staff than any other country in the world — nearly double the average among developed nations of 15%. The perceived lack of “adequate” education spending is commonly used as a left-leaning point to urge lawmakers to give more money to public schools.

In New Hampshire, the problem is even more severe. While New Hampshire’s average cost-per-pupil ($18,434.21) is 94% of Massachusetts’ ($19,514.84), our average teacher salary ($62,695) is 77% of Massachusetts’ ($81,754). Moreover, Massachusetts pays teachers four times the cost of one pupil, while New Hampshire pays a teacher only 3.4 times the cost of one pupil. Despite these facts, teachers’ unions and activist groups continue to falsely decry public schools as underfunded and thus under attack.

New Hampshire K-12 public schools have received record state and local funding despite declining enrollments and under-average student performance. In 20 years, New Hampshire’s cost-per-pupil has increased by 77%, adjusted for inflation, while our teacher salaries have increased by only 1%. In the same period, New Hampshire has increased its non-teaching staff by 80% while increasing the number of teachers by only 23%. Yet, teachers’ unions and left-leaning activists demand more funding to solve their self-inflicted problems caused by wasteful spending — primarily on non-teachers.

To my dismay, I’ve seen the mismanagement of school funding up close. For example, during my Leadership New Hampshire Education Day, I learned that Manchester School District is the second worst-performing district in average learning comprehension, statewide testing results, and post-graduation outcomes. Yet, despite these alarming facts, their chief equity officer said nothing about how she plans to help improve the district’s continuing dismal performance. Instead, she spent her time attacking the Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education law (HB2, Sections 297-298), condemning school choice programs, and accusing any opposition to her intentionally divisive curriculums of being racist.

To make matters worse, diversity professionals now employed by school districts and administrative units are paid up to $153,380. Despite showing little to no benefits to student outcomes, left-leaning school boards shamelessly continue to hire grossly overpaid DEI consultants, chief equity officers, and other similar non-teaching administrators.

Further, schools that embrace woke curriculums recommended by these non-teachers have notably exacerbated an ongoing culture war while increasing parental mistrust of public schools. Public school teachers deserve to earn more or as much as the administrators and consultants, who often morally coerce families into believing false claims of systemic racism in Granite State schools.

In 2021, one New Hampshire high school teacher’s starting salary was only $37,714 — less than a starting salary at a nearby Walmart. Conversely, New Hampshire superintendents receive stipends of up to $178,133, while assistant superintendents raked in wages of up to $136,500. At least eight school administrative units in New Hampshire employ two or more assistant superintendents. While public school teachers struggle, often paying out of pocket for classroom materials, administrators enjoy above-average salaries and benefits with no obligation to improve student performance or outcomes.

Frustratingly, the people who claim to fight for public school teachers’ best interests are the same people who are hurting them the most. While teachers’ unions and left-leaning activist groups falsely blame school choice programs and conservatives, they double down on policies that continue to harm public school teachers directly. Without change, the education administration will continue to balloon without making meaningful improvements in teacher pay and quality — to the detriment of Granite State children.

New Hampshire prides itself on local control of K-12 public education. So, I’d like to encourage anyone who rightly thinks public school teachers deserve more money to engage directly with their local school board. Ask them why they value hiring woke administrators and consultants more than paying higher wages to hardworking teachers.

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