Teacher Layoffs Are Coming as Pandemic Relief Money for Schools Dries Up

Education Workforce

Teacher Layoffs Are Coming as Pandemic Relief Money for Schools Dries Up

By Nadia Tamez-Robledo     Mar 27, 2024

Teacher Layoffs Are Coming as Pandemic Relief Money for Schools Dries Up

This article is part of the collection: Data Bytes: Parsing Education Data Into Snack-Sized Servings.

As school boards prepare to approve their budgets for the fall, many are grappling with how to make up for the yawning chasm left by the loss of federal pandemic-relief dollars.

In many cases, that means educator layoffs are coming. But the ESSER “funding cliff” — the fall deadline for districts to allocate money from the final disbursement of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grants — isn’t a singular culprit behind the staff cuts that are rolling out around the country.

San Diego’s school board decided in early March to eliminate about 430 positions, roughly half of which will be educators, to contend with a $94 million budget shortfall.

Texas’ Arlington Independent School District announced earlier this year that 275 staff positions will be cut.

In Portland, Oregon, the school district is mapping out job cuts by campus to offset a looming $30 million budget deficit.

Even before the federal government closed the spigot on billions in emergency funds for schools, declining student enrollment already had districts fretting over how they would balance their books. Overall public school enrollment is expected to continue its incremental decline through 2040, notes education consulting firm McKinsey & Company, with urban districts bearing the brunt of it.

“U.S. birth and immigration rates have been falling since before the COVID-19 outbreak, decreasing the number of school-aged children,” according to an analysis by the firm. “The pandemic accelerated these trends and sparked a shift in enrollment from traditional public schools to charter schools, homeschools, and private schools.”

Then there are the other factors putting a squeeze on districts’ budgets, like stagnant state funding, expensive building repair and rising costs thanks to inflation. In Kansas, for example, Wichita school board trustees decided to close six aging schools rather than eliminate 230 staff positions (though cuts to administrative workers and programs are still on the table).

It’s what experts from Georgetown University called “a perfect storm of financial chaos” in a report for the Brookings Institution, in which they noted that available ESSER data shows that half of the federal emergency funds have gone toward labor expenses and hiring.

The researchers raised the alarm last summer about how budget shortfalls would cause outsized disruption to students in high-poverty districts that received more ESSER money.

“Leaders will have to cycle through gut-wrenching processes as they consider eliminating staff positions, programs, and extracurriculars,” they wrote. “In some districts, leaders may even have to wrestle with closing schools, raising class sizes, and postponing pay raises.”

That’s already happening in districts like San Diego, where community members told district leaders how they were being affected by the budget cuts during the same meeting where board members approved the plan to slash costs.

“We already lost a teacher earlier this year and my class was the one to be eliminated,” a student said during the public comment period, as reported by NBC San Diego. “Many classmates and I all had to go to different classes."

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