Will the coronavirus pandemic exacerbate teacher shortages?

Dive Brief:

  • Looking at the teacher workforce reduction that occurred in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago, Brookings Institution fellow Andre Perry writes for The Hechinger Report that the coronavirus pandemic could have a similar result for the nation’s teacher workforce at large.
  • Following the storm, Perry writes, Orleans Parish School Board laid off its teachers for nearly four months, after which only half returned by fall 2007, only a third worked in New Orleans schools, and another 18% found jobs in other Louisiana districts. By 2013, the number of pre-Katrina teachers had dropped 22%.
  • Older, veteran teachers may not return after the coronavirus pandemic until reliable vaccines are available. About 23% of the teaching workforce is between 50 and 59 years old, and 7% are older than 60, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Dive Insight:

Studying how natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, and economic recessions affected education funding in the past may foretell what’s on the horizon for America’s schools after coronavirus.

As recently as 2016, states were spending 10% less per student than in 2008. During the 18-month Great Recession, states missed out on tax revenue, which meant less money earmarked for schools. Many states are still dealing with the recession’s fallout and have struggled to save money in rainy day funds.

The pandemic’s economic impact won’t hit schools until tax revenues begin to drop, which will probably happen during the 2020-21 school year. Districts that receive a larger portion of funding from the state will be more affected than those with a strong property tax base. Typically, districts in lower-income areas rely more heavily on state funding and tend to be hit harder during recessions. Students in these districts also tend to have more needs that require additional funding.

During recessions, districts attempt to hang on to staff, which may be difficult now due to the health and safety concerns of older teachers. While the private sector will lay off more workers, it tends to recover from recessions more quickly.

To help save for future budget cuts, districts should stop spending money where they can, set a hiring and promotion freeze, and maintain transparency with staff and the community about why these measures must be taken, according to Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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