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Shortage of teachers?  How about shortage of students? 

Shortage of teachers?  How about shortage of students? 

There have been a lot of reports about the crisis-level shortage of teachers in the PUBLIC school systems.  I emphasized “public” because the crisis is apparently not happening in the private and parochial school systems – and that is a significant point.  This is true even though private and parochial schools often have slightly lower salaries.

A friend, who runs a number of charter schools once told me that he can hire teachers away from the union-run public schools despite lower pay because of “conditions” in the schools, oppressive bureaucracy and regulations, lack of backing by administrators, and the unreasonable demands of teacher unions.

There is also a question if there is a teacher shortage crisis.  As a consultant for the Chicago and Detroit Boards of Education, I saw the numbers.  In both systems, there were enough union teachers on the payroll to bring the classroom size down to under 10 students.  The problem was that many teachers were in the “administration” – too often with make-work or no work jobs.  Some teachers were on year-long sabbaticals, taking advantage of prolonged maternity leave or generous “sick leaves” without a note from the doctor, or at home on dubious to phony workers’ compensation cases.  Those benefits have a level of legitimacy, but in too many cases, they were being grossly abused.

What is less reported is the hemorrhaging of STUDENTS from the public schools.  The New York City school system has lost 600,000 students.  There are literally empty classrooms.  Twenty percent of New York schools have fewer than 300 students.  Even worse in Los Angeles, where 25 percent of the schools have less than 300 students.  In Boston, the number is nearing 50 percent.  Those numbers come from Chalkbeat/AP analysis.

In Chicago, it is one out of three.  The local PBS affiliate WTTW-TV had this to report.

“On a recent morning inside Chalmers School of Excellence on Chicago’s West Side, five preschool and kindergarten students finished up drawings. Four staffers, including a teacher and a tutor, chatted with them about colors and shapes.”

The declining student population in public schools is not new.  It has largely been due to the inferior quality of education when compared to private and parochial school systems — and in the segregated minority communities, the problem of drugs and violence abound in schools.  

The decline in the student population has been occurring for years.  However, the Covid shutdown and increased controversy over curriculum and masking policies have exacerbated the situation. Many who switched to homeschooling are now sticking with that option.  While public school attendance declines, there are waiting lists at private, parochial, and charter schools.  The already troublesome dropout rate has gotten worse.

Most reports of teacher shortages in public school systems are based on past staffing needs. A readjustment based on reduced attendance and a change in classroom size would go a long way to ameliorate the situation.

One of the obstacles, however, is union-supported rules and regulations that lock in the past.  In Chicago, a union-backed feather-bedding law forbids the closing or consolidation of schools until 2025.  There are also barriers to reducing the workforce base on the reduction of students.

The most obvious way to address multiple public-school issues is … school choice, allowing parents to direct the taxpayer school funding to any school of their choice.  That would include public, charter, private or parochial.  That would allow parents and students to select the best options for themselves – and free students from being forcibly confined to largely segregated, failing, and dangerous schools.

If you look closely at the public school systems, you will see that the first priority of the politicians, unions, and education establishment is NOT the education of the student, but a commitment to a building – where too often quality education is not taking place.

Where public schools are performing to the satisfaction of parents and students, they will still have a competitive advantage cost-wise.  The only threat to the existence of a public school is if they are failing to provide the one product the public demands … good education, development of kids for college, and career-level employment.  

If the education does not meet the needs of parents, students, and society, why keep the kids trapped in these underperforming buildings?

Of course, the answer is … money.  Every child in a public school means money from the government to the unions … and to the local politicians.  That is why the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are among the largest, most well-funded lobbying organizations in America.

Just as college students through government loans are the conduit for taxpayer money flowing to the institutions of higher learning, each child in a public school means money from the state.  The unions get rich from dues and control of billion-dollar pension plans – and in some cases, health insurance coverage.

Control of the building also means money and power.  They involve billions of dollars in politically-controlled contracts – union construction, janitor, and food service.  Political patronage, to be precise.  Just for perspective, the Chicago school system is essentially the largest restaurant chain in the state – and among the largest in the nation.  It is among the largest construction and maintenance companies.  As are other urban school systems.  

The physical facilities of public schools are among the most politically corrupted operations in any city.  Billions of dollars of contracts are based on political connections – often paybacks for financial support of the local political leadership.

With the reduction in student populations … the reduction in teacher numbers and needs … and all the controversies swirling around public school education, this is the ideal time to create universal school choice.  That would mean that the money taxpayers spend on education will benefit the students – not the politicians, the unions, and the education lobby.

Finally, there is always that argument against school choice based on separation of church and state – being interpreted as meaning no tax money should flow to parochial schools.  That is utter nonsense.  

The Pell Grant Program that progressives praise allows the student to take the taxpayer money to any school of his or her choice – even Notre Dame or Loyola University.  That IS a school choice.  And it works really well.  All we need to do is to extend the concept to elementary and secondary schools.

The choice is clear.  Do we spend our tax money on educating children … or do we keep them imprisoned in failing schools for the financial and political benefit of a corrupt education/union/political cabal?  

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. frank stetson

    Anecdotal analysis from a charter school friend does not statistics make. And the day I believe a consultant for the Chicago and Detroit schools is the day I go to Secaucus for the air. Smells about the same. Illinois and Michigan are middle of the pack PS systems, Chicago has some really good schools, but pretty sure Detroit sucks — not a stellar report card.

    His NYC loss of 600,00 students is spin, of course, unsourced. The chalkbeat source he lists does not include this number for NYC, however it rates high on the facts and is left of left-center in bias; i can not find the chalkbeat/ap analysis. The Post says that NYC lost 300,000 families in that timeframe, he accounts for none of that. Charter schools are up 9% during the pandemic, they expect a drop 0f 30,000 PS students this year, hardly on the same trajectory as 600K in a couple of years. NY Post says 120,000 loss in five years.

    With that resume and solid factual foundation, we wax poetic on a variety of things wrongs, reasons, and ways to fix —- all from the mind of Larry.


    • Perry

      What are you babbling about?