Public ed employment falls significantly as private ed rises

Dive Brief:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May employment report, employment in private education rose over the course of the month while local and state government education employment declined.
  • Declines in local government education employment accounted for almost two-thirds of the government employment losses overall, at 310,000 out of 487,000 losses, which the report said reflects school closures. At the same time, state education employment continued to decline and accounted for a majority of the decrease in state government employment, at 63,000 out of 84,000 losses. 
  • Meanwhile, 33,000 people were hired in private education. 

Dive Insight:

The employment trends reflect a growing concern in public education around high teacher and leader attrition rates, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Given the impact of coronavirus shutdowns on tax revenues, states are expecting shortfalls and cutting or reworking their education budgets. As a result, districts are considering upping the incentives for retirement and decreasing salaries and expenses, or cutting down on employees and programs. 

As of the end of May, data from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed less than half of states had warned their school districts of revenue cuts but they are revising their revenue projections. 

Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, said at the time this “mixed messaging” could factor into federal bailout decisions. And if states choose to alter their budgets down the road, districts that didn’t plan ahead could be left in a bind. 

The May unemployment trends also highlight debates in public education around how to keep up with private schools during distance learning and partial reopening. Some say embracing and adjusting to changes like hybrid education models in the long-term will be key when competing with charter and private schools.

And though federal money has made its way down through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, details about how it will be disbursed by governors is still slow to emerge. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has encouraged the use of funds for independent and private schools, and school choice advocates have promoted giving them to education savings accounts that would allow parents to use public funding for private school expenses. 

Meanwhile, public school education leaders are voicing their concerns about reopening expenses. A report released today by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, suggests reopening could cost an average district nearly $1.8 million in additional unbudgeted expenses. AASA’s Executive Director Dan Domenech and Advocacy Director Sasha Pudelski suggest this could be impossible without a federal bailout and funds specifically for education.

“You can’t just fund States and leave it to governors and legislatures to invest in education,” Pudelski tweeted. “Given the choice, we are concerned and have seen that education is not a priority.” 

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