Panel Paper: Teachers' Union Contracts and the Productive Efficiency of School Districts: Longitudinal Evidence from California

Thursday, November 2, 2017
Comiskey (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katharine Strunk, Bradley Marianno and Paul Bruno, University of Southern California

Whether or not teachers’ unions help or harm schools and districts has long been a topic of debate. The primary means through which teachers’ unions impact schools and districts is the collective bargaining agreement (CBA, or contract) that local unions negotiate with district administrators. These CBAs dictate most facets of school and district operations, and govern the interactions between teachers, students, and administrators (Eberts, 2007). The existing literature that examines the impacts of CBAs on relevant outcomes finds that stronger CBAs – those that constrain administrators actions to a greater extent – are associated with both higher district expenditures and lower student achievement (Eberts & Stone, 1987; Moe, 2009; Strunk, 2011; Strunk & McEachin, 2011). This suggests that stronger CBAs may lead to inefficiency in school district operations. However, there has been little research that empirically examines the impact of CBAs on the efficiency of school district spending.

In this paper, we examine the relationships between CBA strength and 1) district resource allocation, 2) student achievement, 3) districts’ productive efficiency. To do so, we combine a longitudinal dataset of measures of CBA strength with measures of district resource allocation and student achievement. We generate the measures of CBA strength from approximately 500 California school districts through the use of a partial independence item response model (see Strunk & Reardon (2010) for a review), obtaining contract-based measures from the CBAs in place in the 2005-6, 2008-9, 2011-12 and 2015-16 school years. Our measures of California district resource allocation are taken from the state’s public finance dataset and include districts’ total per-pupil expenditures and subsets of the expenditures allocated towards instructional costs, teachers’ salaries, administrators’ salaries, certificated personnel benefits, classified-personnel benefits, books and supplies, and pupil services. Achievement data (overall and subgroup average achievement on ELA and math achievement tests and the proportion of students who achieve proficiency on these tests) are also retrieved from publicly available district- and school-level data. These data span 2004-5 through 2016-17. From the expenditure and achievement data we follow Lavigne et al. (2017) to construct six measures of efficiency, or expenditure-to-performance ratios. We model districts’ productive efficiency as a function of CBA strength and a set of district characteristics with district and year fixed effects, and incorporate specification checks that account for the potential impacts of the Great Recession, changes to the California school funding formula and legal challenges to teachers’ unions in the state (e.g., Vergara vs. California).

Preliminary results suggest that, once we account for district and year fixed effects, CBA strength does not affect student achievement. However, CBA strength does impact the ways in which districts allocate their resources, causing districts to spend more overall, driven by increased expenditures on salaries (both teachers and administrators). It is not surprising, then, that we find that districts with stronger CBAs are less efficient in their spending. These results have important policy implications for the many states that have implemented or are considering implementing restrictions to the scope of teachers’ unions’ collective bargaining rights.