Why teachers’ salaries will fall as unemployment rises
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
In June 2020, a young comedian’s jokey YouTube video of his becoming more bro-like after drinking a spiked seltzer drink quickly gathered more than 20 million Facebook views. If, on the other hand, you check out the K-12 layoff stories on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter you won’t find a thing.
Elsewhere on the internet, you’ll find a few think-tank articles, but what otherwise appears to be overwhelming indifference to what promises to be a period of unprecedented hardship in American education. What accounts for our alarming inability in the midst of this pandemic to maintain some focus on what really matters?
The Extreme Scale of Coming K-12 Job Losses
An April 2020 overview of K-12 job losses notes that, more than 10 years after the Great Recession, employment in public schools hasn’t fully recovered from 2008’s Great Recession. The research further indicates that without support from the federal government, the revenue shortfalls related to the current crisis will be dramatically worse.
The Economic Policy Institute’s researchers, for instance, anticipate a “revenue shortfall of nearly $1 trillion by 2021.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by early April, just a few weeks after the federal government acknowledged the existence of the pandemic, the job losses in the education sector had already reached 468,000, more than the total number of K-12 job losses over the year-and-a-half of the Great Recession.
The Troubled Future of American Education Funding
There’s little reason to think the recovery from the current crisis will be any faster than the more than 10-year-long partial recovery from the 2008 crisis and several reasons to believe it will take longer.
For one thing, despite a kind of reigning Pollyanna-like forced optimism from the federal government, when the K-12 job losses in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic already exceed the total losses in the Great Recession, we have to recognize that by 2021 job losses in education could amount to another half-million. Even if the eventual jobs recovery in this current crisis proceeds at the same pace as the earlier recovery, since the employment deficits this time will be substantially greater, full recovery will take substantially longer.
Survival of the Fattest
There are two big differences between this crisis and the earlier one, however, and both suggest greater problems for education’s recovery this time around. The first is that the current federal administration isn’t inclined to favor K-12 public school education. The Trump administration’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has stated on several occasions that the federal government’s public school education budget is bloated and needs cutting.
Although the CARES Act provides some education funding and rules-relaxation to help states respond, this support to date has amounted to about $13.5 billion. As earlier noted, the overall shortfalls at the states’ level will be nearly $1 trillion, and, while the percentage varies from state to state, overall about a quarter of that will be shortfalls in education.
Clearly, K-12 financial recovery will depend upon support at the state level. An important component of this support begins with taxes collected from each school district. But, as has long been observed, the structure of tax collection for education is a part of the continuing disadvantage suffered by poorer school districts, which are also disproportionately the school districts inhabited by students of color, whose neighborhoods have been most seriously impacted, financially and medically, by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making this bad situation even worse is the financial condition of the states themselves. Even in liberal states generally more inclined to support K-12 funding, state governments are disinclined to bail out the schools this time — there’s just no money. On the contrary, almost every state anticipates further K-12 funding cuts. In California, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed state budget cuts for 2021 K-12 funding are around 10%.
Why We Love Those Jokey Drinking Videos So Much
The coronavirus epidemic isn’t just a health crisis; it’s a crisis that’s brought to the fore other crises that, historically, Americans have had trouble processing. Important among them are growing financial inequality; a pause in life expectancy; the complex of racial disadvantages and dangers underlying the Black Lives Matter protests; even the future of employment.
That’s a lot of uncertainty and disparity to address. To our credit, it does seem that as a nation we’re trying to address our difficult racial legacy with greater openness and willingness than before. But the piling up of these various social, medical and financial ills has a lot of Americans emotionally maxed out.
Viral internet silliness isn’t a solution, obviously. But it provides a brief respite. It seems quite human to put off trying to do much about some of these other crises until we are at least past the nadir of existential despair COVID-19 provides. Unfortunately, by the time we’re really ready address the funding crisis in education, the situation will have further deteriorated. We likely face a long and unhappy recovery.
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