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July 1994, Vol. 117, No. 7
Employment in public schools and the student-to-employee ratio
Teresa L. Morisi
Employment in public school has doubled since 1964. As a result, the student-to-employee ratio fell from 13.3 in 1964 to 6.4 in 1990.1 Schools had fared well even in recessionary periods, when the student-to-employee ratio continued to drop or at least held steady. In the most recent recession, however, the student-to-employee ratio rose for the first time in the history of the data series. By 1993, the student-to-employee ratio returned to the 1990 level. It is unclear whether the ratio will decline further, as tightly constrained Federal, State, and local budgets will be forced to accommodate a rising student population in the coming years.
Enrollment linked to 'baby-boomers'
Enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools grew steadily from 1964, peaking at 46 million in 1971. The rise was caused by the "baby-boom generation" (persons born during the 1946-62 period) entering the public school system.2 As the members of the baby-boom generation graduated or left school, enrollment fell steadily for the next 13 years - a total decline of 7 million students. Enrollment again began to climb in 1984 when the children of those born during the baby-boom period began attending school. Enrollment has risen by 4 million since 1984, but still remains 3 million below the 1971 peak level (See chart 1 and table 1.)
Trends in total employment
The surge in public school employment over the 1964-93 period occurred despite four small annual declines (1978, and the 1981-83 period), falling enrollment, and the recessions.
Employment growth during falling enrollment. Employment in public schools rose in all but 4 years between 1972 and 1984, even though enrollment fell by 7 million during the period. The ratio continued to decline in 1978, despite the fact that public school employment fell for the first time since 1964. Employment again declined in 1981 and through 1983, but the student-to-employee ratio remained steady.
By 1982, the yearly enrollment declines began to lessen in magnitude. In 1984, enrollment declined only slightly and employment returned to its growth trend; as a result, the student-to-employee ratio resumed its decline.
Employment during recessions. Of the five recessions that occurred between 1964 and 1993,3 only the last two recessions appeared to have any effect on local government education employment. (See box.) During the 1981-82 recession, employment declined both years, with a spillover effect of a small decline in 1983. The student-to-employee ratio remained constant during this recession.
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1 Data from 1964 forward are used because enrollment data prior to 1964 encompassed the entire school year. For 1964 and later years, enrollment figures are for fall only and thus can be compared with fall employment data.
2 National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 1992, NCES 92-027 (Washington, DC, National Center for Education Statistics, October, 1992), p. 1.
3 These recessionary periods, as identified by the National Bureau of Economic Research, are: December 1969 - November 1970; November 1973 - March 1975; January 1980 - July 1980; July 1981 - November 1982; and July 1990 - March 1991.
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