This is the first in a series of blog posts called EduFacts: The SOS March in Context.
Education Sector Intern Mary Nguyen co-wrote and did much of the research for this post.
One reason for the stubbornly high U.S. unemployment rate is a “record-breaking layoff binge” by state and local governments. IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm, estimates that 110,000 non-federal public sector jobs will be eliminated this quarter and many of them this summer will be teachers. The Center on Education Policy reported last month that about 60 percent of school districts nationally anticipate reducing employment this school year.
It’s hard to know exactly how many jobs bill be cut because the budget picture for states and local governments can change quickly and the layoff notices sent out in the spring may be rescinded. But there’s little doubt that it will be in the tens of thousands and many teachers will not know if they have a job until just before the start of the school year. In Clark County School District in Nevada, for example, up to 1,000 pink-slipped teachers will be in limbo until August, waiting to see how many still employed teachers will decide to retire.
The loss of jobs and the anxiety that produces is part of the context for the Save Our Schools marches planned for D.C. and state capitols later this week. Widespread layoffs, which have almost always led to the least experienced teachers being laid off first, have spurred attempts to change seniority provisions so that performance is at least part of the equation.
It could have been far worse. The 2009 federal stimulus package helped save more than 300,000 educators’ jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Education. But that money is running out. CEP says only a third of districts have any of that money left. A bill passed a year ago gave states $10 billion to prevent what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said would have been an education catastrophe. So far, though, states have spent only 56 percent of that money. Five states plus Guam and the Virgin Islands have spent it all. South Carolina, that bastion of states’ rights, has used its prerogative to not even apply for its share.
California school districts also have announced thousands of layoffs, led by the Los Angeles Unified School District. But a bill passed by the California Legislature with little discussion halts all layoffs for a year. Instead, the legislation gives districts with budget deficits the power to save money by eliminating as many as seven days of instruction, with union approval. Districts had previously been given the option of cutting five days off the school calendar.
But, to place the current layoffs in proper context, it’s important that we understand several longer-term trends. Between 1994 and 2007, according to the National Center on Education Statistics, enrollment rose by 10 percent. During that same period the number of teachers increased by 25 percent. It’s true that many of those teachers may actually be working as instructional coaches, or be assigned to special education classes, intervention programs with smaller staffing ratios or classes for English Language Learners. But it’s also true that, until very recently, average class size has fallen steadily since the early 1990s.
It’s also important to remember that teachers are not the only public employees losing their jobs. The public sector as a whole has cut an average of 23,000 jobs per month over the past three months, compared to a private sector that created an average of 180,000 jobs per month during that time. City governments, moreover, are just now experiencing a falloff in property tax revenues from foreclosures and falling home values, on top of losing state and federal aid, so more layoffs are coming. And with the recession continuing, taxpayers are unlikely to vote to increase property tax rates. For example, Meridian School District, Idaho’s largest district, will eliminate 62 teaching positions in the coming school year after voters there rejected a two-year, $37 million property tax levy. Similarly, voters in Eugene, Oregon rejected a city income tax that would have provided $12 million annually for four years to limit teacher layoffs and keep class sizes small.
No matter what kind of job you have, losing it is a big blow. (It’s less painful if you leave with millions of dollars in severance, as many CEOs do.) But many jobs cut in this Great Recession will never come back and those laid off are looking for jobs in entirely new areas. On the other hand, we’ll always have a great need for teachers.
We’ve assembled snapshots of the layoff picture in various states and districts: Snapshots of the National Layoff Picture.