Cliff Slater’s Second Opinion


Our teachers are next


Mainland police departments are conducting a raid on Honolulu’s finest. They are offering higher pay, moving expenses, a lower cost of living and lower priced housing.(1) We will lose some of our best officers—and none of the worst.

Of course, we will react slowly to the novel idea that there is a market for police officers as well as butter, wheat and pork bellies. Sooner or later though we will realize that we will have to increase pay to keep good officers for what is unarguably the core role of a government—the security and protection of its citizens.

But while we are still reacting to the loss of fine police officers, mainland school districts will conduct raids on our schools.

The nation is currently two million teachers short(2) and, in addition, schools across the U.S. are upgrading teacher quality.(3) Politicians there have found that providing just enough money to put a warm body in front of the class is no longer tolerable to voters. The qualification bar is being raised for teachers across the U.S. (4)

Therefore, when desperate mainland school districts start recruiting here they will only be seeking our best teachers. There will be little demand for those who are not well qualified.

Massachusetts, can offer $20,000 signing bonuses for the best math and science teachers. Dallas can offer teachers help with down payments on homes in addition to signing bonuses.(5) And, of course, they can all offer a lower cost of living and lower home prices.

Old concepts about teachers are being thrown out as quality becomes the watchword. New York City is importing math teachers from Europe and—hey! here’s a concept—how about Spanish teachers from Spain.(6)

Hawaii is already rated by Education Week as having poor teaching quality.(7) This isn’t surprising; allowing for inflation, we currently pay Hawaii teachers 20% less than we did 20 years ago while total costs per student are 60% more(8)—now figure that one out.

Given our limited state budget, and this pending raid on our teachers, we should rethink public education from the ground up. We should raise teacher standards, offer merit pay for the best teachers, offer incentive pay for math and science teachers and offer additional incentive pay to teach in our less desirable schools.

We could pay for it by reducing overhead and unqualified teachers. It may mean larger class sizes and that will necessitate the re-imposition of strict student discipline. But we should reconsider how many motivated students can be taught by highly-qualified well-paid teachers with teachers’ assistants.

If all this sounds improbable to you, then consider this. Imagine that we reduce the student/teacher ratio and the cost of overhead per student, allowing for inflation, to what it was twenty years ago—when our student test scores were higher. Then allow that we give teachers a 20% increase and then spend $100 million annually on scouting, recruiting and incentive payments for teachers. If we did all this, we would have $200 million still to spend of our current education budget.(9) We could even buy textbooks for all students.

But we won’t do anything. As usual, we will sit idly by until our schools are raided and then our elected officials will wring their hands in total shock and surprise. And our schools will have been taken down another notch—by us.


Cliff Slater is a Honolulu businessman who represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii. His footnoted columns are at:



1.) Soong, James K. Seattle recruiters raiding HPD.

2.) Bradley, Ann. New Teachers Are Hot Commodity. Education Week. September 9, 1998.

3.) Darling-Hammond, Linda and Barnett Berry. Investing in Teaching. Education Week. May 27, 1998.

4.) Archer, Jeff. States Raising Bar for Teachers Despite Pending Shortage. Education Week. March 25, 1998.

5.) White, Kerry A. Mass. Reacts to More Test Data; Teacher Proposal Outlined. Education Week. August 5, 1998.

6.) Bradley, Ann. New Teachers Are Hot Commodity. Education Week. September 9, 1998.

7.) Quality Counts. Education Week/Pew Charitable Trusts. January 1997.

8.) Hawaii Education Statistics. Prepared by the author and available as a spreadsheet on request.

9.) In 1975 we had 176,844 students and 7,711 teachers who had an average salary of $13,949. Our total cost of operations was $232,185,601. Thus, teacher salaries were $107,560,739 leaving "other costs" of $124,624,862 or $704.72 per student, or $2,104 in 1995 dollars.

In 1995 we had 183,795 students and 11,602 teachers with average salaries of $36,516. Had we had the same student/teacher ratio as 1975 we would today have 7,514 teachers. In 1995 we had "other costs" of $3,517 per student which, allowing for inflation, was 67% more than 20 years earlier.

Thus, 7,514 teachers @ $43,819 average salary after a 20% increase equals $329,257,468. Allow "other costs" of 183,795 students times $2,104 which equals $386,704,680. The total is $715,962,148. We currently spend over $1 billion which leaves us around $300 million.

These data are all available in the 1996 State Data Book, tables 3.15 and 14.02, together with table 9.5 of Schmitt’s Historical Statistics of Hawaii.