New Orleans schools have increased spending on administrators and reduced spending for teachers in the years since charter schools took over nearly every public school after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005.
That’s according to a study done by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, based at Tulane University. The institute has previously found that charter schools have improved academic outcomes, but this new report undercuts the idea that the charterization of New Orleans schools reduced bureaucratic costs and sent more money directly into classrooms.
The researchers found that not only are there now more administrators but those administrators are also paid more. Earlier this year, The Times-Picayune found that at least five dozen New Orleans charter administrators were paid more than $100,000 during the 2013-14 school year. At the same time, the researchers found a $706 per pupil drop in instructional spending, largely driven by lower salaries and smaller benefit packages for educators. Doug Harris, the director of the Education Research Alliance and one of the study’s authors, was surprised by that finding.
“I don’t think I anticipated that there’d actually be a decline in instructional spending,” Harris told The Lens, a local news website.
Lower teacher pay can be attributed to the fact that nearly 7,000 educators were fired after Katrina and replaced by a much younger teaching force, nearly all of whom work in non-unionized charters. Administrators have largely relied on alternative certification programs like Teach for America since the storm to staff classrooms.
“Teachers are earning less because they have less experience. Those with the same experience now earn more than teachers before the reforms,” said Christian Buerger, a postdoctoral fellow who worked with Harris on the report.
Additionally, the researchers found that New Orleans teachers were getting paid more than their peers with similar experience in the rest of Louisiana. But lower salaries just explain a third of the drop in instructional spending; retirement benefits account for an additional half of the difference. Instead of ulitizing the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, most New Orleans charter schools rely on 401(k)-style retirement plans, which has been proposed in other states as a cost-cutting measure.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.