School Board spending choices contribute to national teacher shortage

Edition 31 October 2019, By Lorre Luther

On 5 July, various Dutch teachers’ unions sent a letter to Arie Slob, Minister for Elementary and Secondary Education, demanding the government make more money available to address deficiencies in Dutch primary and secondary education. The unions are threatening to strike on 6 November if the government doesn’t provide an additional 423.5 million euros to ease the teacher shortage, lower excessive workloads and increase teachers’ salaries. Yet, evidence suggests that an increase in funding will not remedy any of these issues, in part because school boards are spending money on administrative personnel and other costs instead of hiring more full-time teachers, raising salaries and reducing class sizes.

The national government has dedicated millions of euros to addressing the crisis in education. It has set aside 285 million euros specifically for primary education for the 2019-2020 school year. In recent years, primary educational institutions received 270 million euros to support struggling teachers and an additional 333 million euros to reduce heavy instructional workloads. In response to the demand for additional funding, Slob stated, “it’s becoming a pretty high amount. If anyone says the government is not doing anything for education, I’ll counter that with the facts.”

Therefore, some organizations and teachers argue that increased funding won’t address the issues threatening the integrity of the Dutch educational system. According to this group, current institutional realities essentially reduce the impact of increased national government funding when it comes to addressing the teacher shortage. They argue that systemic factors limit the importance of national educational funding on staffing levels and workloads, including the decentralized nature of the Dutch educational system, overzealous local school board savings strategies and a clear preference for hiring money-saving temporary and part-time workers.

In stark contrast to several other European nations, the Netherlands has a decentralized educational funding system. National government money earmarked for education goes directly to local school boards. These organizations then determine when, where and how to allocate the funds to the schools they oversee. School districts are free to use money from The Hague in whatever way they choose, and they regularly elect not to spend these funds on teachers.

Local school boards tend to save money instead of spending it on education. According to data released by the Department of Education, the overall liquidity of the primary education sector has dramatically increased since the introduction of lump-sum financing in 2006. School districts throughout the Netherlands responded to the new financing rules by saving up large percentages of the money received from The Hague.

At the same time, school boards have adopted staffing decisions that exacerbate the problem. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of students in Dutch primary schools decreased by approximately 4.5 percent, according to a 2014 report released by the Department of Education. During that same period, the number of full-time equivalent (fte) teaching positions fell by more than 11 percent. The trend suggests that local school boards are systematically hiring part-time and flexible workers—a pattern that saves money but directly contributes to overcrowded classrooms and exacerbates the teacher shortage.

Secondary schools show similar spending patterns. Instead of using money to hire more teachers or increase salaries, boards have been hiring additional administrative personnel. According to IPSE Studies, an organization that researches public education in the Netherlands, the overall amount spent on teachers’ salaries has barely increased since 2009. During that same period, the total spent on administrative personnel salaries increased from 17 to 22 percent of the total secondary education budget.

School professionalization appears to be a driving force behind these numbers. “Tasks that were previously done by teachers have been taken over by others. Examples are roster makers, ICT specialists, deans, exam secretaries and care coordinators,” explains Stan Termeer, spokesman for an umbrella organization that represents secondary school boards in the Netherlands.

Educational institutions now spend an increasing amount of time on paperwork and other administrative tasks. Jan de Vries, head of the CNV Education Union, suggests that it’s “therefore not surprising that more money will probably go” to funding administrative tasks and positions instead of directly to teachers.

Slob has not ruled out additional primary education funding. He’s indicated a willingness to look into the question after the involved parties reach a collective bargaining agreement. The lack of a collective bargaining agreement between teachers’ unions and local school boards is currently preventing the government from releasing this year’s funding. In the meantime, Prime Minister Mark Rutte promised the government will support primary and secondary education with additional temporary funding.