Nationwide, public education is a vast undertaking. Total state and local revenues for public elementary and secondary education in fiscal 2005 were more than $443 billion. To put this figure in perspective, in fiscal 2005 U.S. military spending was $483 billion, according to the Office of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. This military spending encompassed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $75.6 billion for the “Global War on Terror” and another $3.2 billion for disaster relief spending.
Professor John Donahue of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government notes that America’s public education system is so big that public school teachers make up the largest single group of government employees in the nation, with teachers’ aides ranking second. Despite the number of teachers and aides, however, a significant percentage of public school employees are not involved in instruction.
Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in his forthcoming book “The Warping of Government Work,” Donahue reports that in 2002, there were 3.1 million nonteaching personnel employed in public education. Some of these were involved with higher education, but Donahue calculates that around 2.3 million are nonteaching elementary and secondary public school employees. Positions run the gamut from accountants, secretaries and counselors to bus drivers, janitors and cafeteria workers. In Michigan, data from the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information indicate that teachers, teachers’ aides and instructional coordinators comprise 53 percent of Michigan’s public education employees, while the remaining 47 percent of employees perform support work, including administration.