To the Editor:
As Goffstown’s boards, committees and residents begin debating the school budget once more, I thought it appropriate to offer a set of relevant statistical references to which we can tether our arguments. Below are some topics of frequent debate where I believe the prevailing attitudes in some circles are not borne out by the data.
Are public schools generally underfunded? It is commonly believed that chronic underfunding afflicts most public schools. Data from the Department of Education, however, shows that inflation-adjusted school spending in the US has more than doubled since 1970. This means that twice the real buying power is now available to schools. Aside from a brief leveling in the 90s, schools everywhere have enjoyed uninterrupted growth in funds for the last 40 years. In Goffstown, school budget growth between 2006 and 2010 was 12.4%, even with 90 fewer students. This rate outpaces both inflation (9.6%) and NH GDP growth (8.4%) during the same interval, a fact that contradicts claims of underfunding.
Are teachers underpaid? Another prevalent belief is that teachers, though they provide an invaluable service, are paid very little in return. While teaching is not among the highest paid professions, it appears to be well above the average. The average salary of Goffstown’s teachers is $53,000, compared with $46,000 overall in the greater Manchester area. Factoring in a 186-day work year, teachers earn about $13 more per hour than the average for all professions ($35.62 vs $22.11). It has been claimed that Goffstown pays teachers less than other nearby districts. In fact, although we pay new teachers slightly less than most other towns, our experienced teachers are paid slightly more. Additionally, teachers in most comparable districts receive about one third less longevity pay.
Does increased spending on education necessarily produce better results? According to data from the NCES, reading performance has been flat for the last 40 years, despite constant spending increases. Another study comparing districts across the country showed no correlation between spending and graduation rates. Meanwhile, other countries continue to outperform the United States, even while spending far less on education. Of the 32 nations that outperformed the US in math in 2006, only three spent more per pupil than we did; some spent as little as one third of the US amount. In light of the above, the wisdom of expecting returns on education spending increases appears dubious.
Is Goffstown’s tax rate relatively low? Although lower than in some previous years, Goffstown's current tax rate of $22.91 per $1000 of assessed value is still in the top 21% statewide (31st of 145). This rate amounts to $5,727 on a $250,000 house, which is equivalent to an 8% income tax on Goffstown’s median household income of $72,000. $5,727 is also enough to cover one year’s worth of cable and internet service, iPhone service, electricity and heating for a 2300 sq-ft house.