Are Teacher Layoffs Around the Corner?

The Center on Education Policy (CEP), an independent, nonprofit organization, recently released the results from a survey of 233 randomly selected school districts dealing with the state of these districts’ budgets in the upcoming 2010-11 school year and the likelihood of teacher layoffs. This survey is part of a three-year project tracking the use of federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

We discussed the results of the survey with Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. He explains that the CEP follows different developments in education to promote reform movements. The objective of the three-year survey tracking ARRA spending “is to find out how this large amount of money is being spent at the state level and at the local level, and to as objectively as possible report on its use,” Jennings states.

One of the main findings of this survey is that local school districts’ financial conditions are not good. Jennings explains, “Local school districts told us that in the last school year they had a lower school budget than they did in the previous school year, and what they project for the upcoming school year, 2010-11, is that their budgets will be even smaller than they were last year.” Sixty percent of school districts reported that they had spent all their recovery money.

ARRA funds received in the 2009-10 school year helped around two-thirds of districts save or create jobs, despite suggestions that the money be used for short-term projects (due to the temporary nature of the funding). Money did go to nonpersonnel costs, and many districts did move money around to save jobs rather than relying on the funding outright to pay salaries.

Despite this, budget shortfalls and excessive trimming in other areas have led districts to look to their workforce to trim expenses. According to Jennings, superintendents and school boards try to make other cutbacks before they get to the teaching force — such cuts include maintenance budgets and textbooks. “But,” he explains, “nearly half the school districts in the country felt they had no choice last year, and in this next school year, since most of the districts face an even tighter budget, three-fourths of school districts are going to have to fire teachers. We can only presume that school districts feel that they have cute everywhere else that they can.” Districts are left with trying to find extra money in their budgets by cutting teachers.

While California is perhaps the most publicized case of education budget problems, the problem is not unique to this one state. From the survey, the results do not show if the situation is more dire in different states or urban or rural districts; even so, some states may be having to face more budget challenges than others.

Along with these challenges, the CEP’s survey also found that fewer schools are taking steps to turn around underperforming schools — one reform that is probably not affected by district budget issues. The CEP is planning to release a separate report on their data collected about districts’ actions regarding low-performing schools.

One reform tied to districts’ use of State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) money that can be affected by teacher layoffs is improving teaching effectiveness and distribution. “There’s a general pattern that less experienced teachers teach in the poorer schools and more experienced teacher in the more affluent schools,” Jennings states. When budget cutbacks lead to layoffs, often the newer teachers are fired first.

In the end, the majority of the districts reported that they were better off with the ARRA money. Eighty-three percent feel better off with the funds, with the greatest problem being the short-term nature of the funding. Despite having to fill out numerous forms to report to the state and federal government how they were using the money, only 38 percent of districts felt redundant forms were an issue.

It is uncertain that once the economy begins to turn around teachers will be coming back into districts. “School districts may not rehire teachers because they don’t how long it’s going to last,” states Jennings. Schools cannot make long-term plans while there is still uncertainty about the economy. “Districts have to keep within their budgets, and they aren’t going to go out and rehire teachers unless they know they’re going to have the money.”

For more information about the Center on Education Policy and to read the report in full, visit the CEP’s Website.