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Education Reporter

More Teachers for Fewer Students
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Even as student enrollment fell in recent years, districts hired more teachers and staff. A recent report from the Empire Center for New York State Policy found that New York public schools added 15,000 teachers between 2000 and 2009, despite losing 121,000 students during that time frame.

Teachers' unions say fewer students per class aids learning, but the evidence for improved academic outcomes is underwhelming. What is certain is that unions benefit from more dues-paying members. At any rate, New York's pupil-student ratio was small "even before the staff expansion of the past nine years," and in 2008 was the eighth lowest in the nation at 13 students per teacher, according to the Empire Center study.

The disproportionate hiring to enrollment ratio isn't limited to the Empire State. Between 2001 and 2007, 12 states experienced declining enrollments while expanding teaching and support staff, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Census Bureau. And in another half-dozen states, the number of teachers hired was not justified by the increase in student enrollment.

For example, student enrollment was up by 9% in North Carolina, but the number of teachers rose by 22%; Virgina's enrollment grew by 5%, but 21% more teachers were added. Florida experienced a 6% increase in students, but hired 20% more teachers.

"There ought to be some relationship between hiring personnel and the needs of the students," said Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency. "At what point do we say that we're hiring too many teachers for the number of students that we have?"

That question is all the more important as states respond to shrinking budgets. New York Governor David Paterson's proposal for $1.4 billion cut in school spending could lead to the dismissal of more than 14,000 employees, according to the state's School Board Association. Despite vigorous protests, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is also enforcing significant education cuts.

In response to the potential loss of union members, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten wrote in the Wall Street Journal that allowing more than 275,000 teachers and staff nationwide to receive pink slips will cause class sizes to "swell." Weingarten wrote the opinion piece to ask Congress for a $23 billion federal bailout to "avert educational and economic disaster." (Wall Street Journal, 4-12-10; 5-20-10)

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