In a turn of events that has surprised no one, President Obama’s proposal to direct $30 billion to save educators’ jobs quickly became a political football after it was unveiled last month. The proposed fund, which is part of the broader American Jobs Act, would be available to districts from this school year through 2013-14. Estimates by the Education Commission of the States and the Administration put the total number of jobs it could save or create at nearly 400,000.
The Obama Administration argues that this jobs fund – which we’ll call Edujobs2 – will provide a much-needed infusion of cash to school districts that would otherwise have to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers. Critics charge, however, that it’s just a political maneuver designed to “energize union support,” and that it’s bad economic policy to boot.
So who is right? Is the president’s proposal the right strategy to avert more layoffs, or is it merely an election-season gambit? Or maybe a little bit of both? Moreover, will this really save 400,000 jobs? Could it help states and districts shore up their finances and prevent school quality from further deteriorating? Through this “Explaining Edujobs2” series, we’ll try to cut through the political rhetoric, stick to the facts, and provide some helpful context and answers to these questions.
Issue 1: the current education jobs picture – just how bad is it? As we all know, the floundering economy has led many employers to lay off workers over the past three years. So it’s no surprise that layoffs of public education workers as a whole spiked in 2009 and remained high in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (See graph below.) It’s important to note that this count is limited to those who lost their jobs during “mass layoff events,” where at least 50 unemployment insurance claims were filed in a five-week period. So any smaller-scale layoffs would not be included here. While we may not be able to derive a total layoff count from these official numbers, they confirm education layoffs are up sharply, and there is significant budget pressure at the district level.
Recent independent reports shed further light on the state of education layoffs. An estimate by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities puts the total number of education layoffs at close to 300,000 since August 2008. And a Center for Education Policy (CEP) survey of school districts found that 53% cut some staff in the 2010-11 school year. Layoffs remain a threat in 2011-12: half of districts surveyed plan to cut staff in some way, and 26% had not yet made a decision when the survey was administered in the spring.
While the nation is rightly concerned about teacher layoffs, any layoffs resulting from education budget cuts affect all district and school employees, and it is difficult to tell how many jobs lost – or saved – are teaching jobs, other instructional personnel, or administrative staff.
To better understand who might be affected by layoffs, let’s look at the distribution of jobs across the education workforce. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were about 6.4 million public education employees in the U.S. (including our territories) in the 2009-10 school year. Half are teachers and another 13% are classified as other instructional staff. The remaining 38% are guidance counselors, library staff, student services staff, administrative staff at the school and district level, and other support staff. It’s interesting to note that, though many commentators express concerns about administrative “bloat,” district administrators and administrative staff make up just 4% of the total education workforce.
The CEP survey mentioned above provides some limited information about who has borne the brunt of layoffs. Among the districts that told CEP they had reduced their workforce, the most common type of employee they chose to lay off was teachers of non-academic subjects. The next most common was academic teachers. (See table for more detail.) This isn’t surprising, given that teachers represent a significant proportion of education workers – and therefore a large share of district budgets.
Now that we have a sense of the severity of the recent education layoffs, we’ll explore in Part 2 what the federal government has already done to address this problem and how successful these efforts have been.
Written by Education Sector policy intern Jennie Herriot Hatfield.