New Hampshire’s district public schools had the nation’s largest percentage increase in staffing relative to enrollment from 1994–2022, a new study has found.
The study by economist Ben Scafidi, director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University, found that district K-12 public school staffing in New Hampshire increased by 55% from the 1994 to 2022 fiscal years even as student enrollment fell by 11.2%.
“The staffing surge in New Hampshire public schools was the largest in the nation between 1994 and 2022,” Scafidi said.
New Hampshire’s gap between staffing growth and enrollment—66.2 percentage points—was by far the largest margin among all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Seven states had larger percentage increases in staffing, but they all had large increases in enrollment as well, which produced smaller gaps between enrollment and staffing than New Hampshire’s.
For comparison, Florida’s increase in public school staffing was only 7.1 percentage points greater than its bump in student enrollment. Massachusetts’ gap was 44.1 points, Maine’s was 44.7, and Vermont’s was 26.6. The national gap was 28.1 points.
Nationwide during those years, district public school enrollment increased by 7.5% and staffing surged by 35.6%—nearly five times above what was necessary to accommodate the rise in student enrollment. That staffing surge was larger than in public higher education and all other state and local government services.
For public higher education nationally, the gap between enrollment growth (25.5%) and staffing growth (35.8%) was just 10.3 percentage points. During this same period, all state and local government staff excluding public education grew by 11.6% as the U.S. population grew by a much larger 32.3%.
“Many advocates and leaders of public schools routinely claim that public schools are not a priority in America,” Scafidi said. “The data show that to be the opposite of the truth. For decades, K-12 public schools have been the employment priority for state and local governments across the United States.”
New Hampshire found itself among 22 states (plus the District of Columbia) that experienced declining enrollment during this time. Among those states, 19 saw both declining enrollment and increased staffing.
In other words, New Hampshire was in the minority of states that hired more personnel to serve fewer students.
In the Granite State, district K-12 public schools were clearly the employment priority of the state and local governments from 1994–2022. Public higher education staffing in New Hampshire grew by 23.3%, though enrollment grew by just 1.1% in those years. That 22.2-point gap is much larger than the national gap of 10.3 points. But it’s roughly a third of New Hampshire’s 66.2-point gap between enrollment and staffing in K-12 public schools.
All other state and local government staff increased by only 13.1% as the Granite State population grew by 27.2% during those years.
These figures reinforce the findings in The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy’s school funding study, also written by Scafidi, which we published this spring. In that study, Scafidi found that inflation-adjusted spending on K-12 public education in New Hampshire skyrocketed 40% from 2001–2019.
With a decades-long surge in public school spending and hiring, why are we seeing reports that some school districts are having difficulty recruiting teachers going into the 2023–24 school year?
Simply put, New Hampshire’s district public schools have tended to devote their increased resources to hiring more staff, which leaves them with less money to spend on teacher pay. As we pointed out in a previous analysis, while average district public school spending in New Hampshire is 14.4% above the national average, teacher salaries fall 5.3% below the national average.
From 2001–2019, teacher salaries grew by only 12% in New Hampshire. At the same time, current spending on a per-pupil basis (spending that excludes debt service and capital expenditures) surged by 74%, showing that the focus was hiring, not increasing teacher pay, even as enrollment fell.
What’s more, very little of New Hampshire’s staffing surge was dedicated to hiring more teachers. Our study published this spring showed that the number of K-12 public school teachers in the state grew by only 2% from 2001–2019. The number of instructional coordinators (considered district administrators by the U.S. Department of Education) and other district administrators, on the other hand, ballooned by 61% and 57%, respectively. Student support staff and paraprofessionals/aides each increased by 41% and 40%, respectively—again, as enrollment in the state fell.
Scafidi’s new study shows that the district K-12 public school staffing surge occurred nationwide over the last three decades, but it was particularly large in some states and greatest in New Hampshire. New Hampshire policymakers often boast that the state leads numerous national rankings. Unfortunately, this is not a ranking that such a famously frugal state should want to lead.