Cliff's Notes
    Second Opinion -- Honolulu Advertiser 2/25/97
Why teachers get no apples

By Cliff Slater

Cliff Slater is a Honolulu businessman and represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii.

Here's our dilemma. We are not paying our teachers enough yet we are spending more money than ever on education.

First, Hawaii teachers' salaries, allowing for inflation, peaked in 1977 and have declined by 20% since then.(1) In 1980, we paid our teachers 22% more than the national average. Today we are paying them 3% less.(2)

Second, while teacher salaries have declined, our total education budget has ballooned alarmingly. A good year with which to compare is 1970. In that year we had almost the same number of students as today, their SAT scores were much higher and our teachers were better paid.  

Allowing for inflation we now spend twice as much per student as we used to.

  That year, allowing for inflation, we spent $678 million on our public education operating budget. By 1995 that had ballooned to nearly $1.1 billion_nearly twice as much. Given that we have roughly the same number of students today as in 1970 and our teachers are making less money, where has all the additional money gone?

Two places -- more poorer-paid teachers and more overhead.

For the same number of students as in 1970 we have 4,000 more teachers today.

  From 1970 to 1995 our student/teacher ratio declined from 25:1 to 16:1. That means we now spend 53% more on teacher time per student. Put another way, we now have 4,000 more teachers than if we had the same teacher/student ratio as in 1970.(3)

We have also greatly inflated the rest of the budget_the non-teaching salaries part of it_the overhead. This includes maintenance, books and bureaucrats among many other costs. This amount has doubled since 1970_allowing for inflation_for roughly the same number of students. It now accounts for 60% of the public education budget.

What does all this amount to? Simply put, if we had today the same student/teacher ratio and the same kind of overhead as we had in 1970 then our education budget, even allowing for inflation, would have $400 million more to spend on teacher raises, books and other essentials.

These are tough times. It's now time to take a hard look at some of these costs_except teachers' salaries. They need a sharp boost.

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(1) Teacher salaries and the Honolulu CPI-U as reported by the Hawaii Dept. of Planning, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports higher actual salaries than DBEDT. For example, NCES shows Hawaii teachers earning 13% more in 1995 than 1990 whereas DBEDT shows only 11%. In addition, to allow for inflation NCES uses national CPI data.

(2) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Table 79 available @

(3) Whatever you might 'feel' about the value of lower student/teacher ratios, there are no studies showing that smaller class sizes make any difference to learning. The most extensive and reliable study was that by the U.K. Office of Standards in Education (OFSTED) which showed class size, with exceptions, had no influence on learning. They concluded that teacher quality was far more important than class size. See "OFSTED finds no clear link between class size and lesson quality." Office for Standards in Education. PN 35/95. 10 November 1995. For this and other OFSTED reports visit their website at