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Sizing Up School Layoffs Across the States

It's no secret. A lot of schools are coping with dreadful financial conditions this year, and next year could be much worse, with federal stimulus funds drying up and numerous governors and lawmakers pressing for cuts in education funding.

Some of the most painful blows to schools will surely come in the form of layoffs—to teachers, curriculum specialists, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and others.

But how bad will it be?

Over the course of the ongoing state legislative sessions, various education and advocacy organizations—unions, school business and administrators' groups, and others—have come up with their own projections of job losses, which range from painful-but-probably-unsurprising to pretty staggering.

In the first category we have Iowa, where Democrats in the legislature, as well as some education advocacy groups, have predicted that 1,500 layoffs could result if current budget proposals in the state become law.

Yet those numbers look like small potatoes compared with the numbers being kicked around in Texas, where districts could be forced to make 65,000 school layoffs, if state lawmakers enact propose budget cuts. That estimate was given to me by the Texas Association of School Administrators, and was backed up by Moak, Casey & Associates, a Texas company with years of experience studying school finance. Lone Star lawmakers are struggling to close a projected two-year budget shortfall of up to $27 billion.

Some state officials and other observers would probably question whether those estimates are overstated, or part of an effort to drum up more legislative and public support for providing K-12 schools with more funding. And Republican governors in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin have argued that local school districts will be able to make do with less, because the state is going to be requiring local school district employees to chip in more to their benefits.

But local school district officials aren't sounding optimistic about the budget picture next year.

In survey results released four months ago by the American Association of School Administrators, 48 percent of district officials reported laying off employees during the 2010-11 school year—and even more, 66 percent, anticipate doing so next school year.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry caused a stir last month when he argued that state officials were not to blame if school districts were forced to make layoffs because of budget cuts—despite the state's role in funding schools.

"The lieutenant governor, the [Texas House] speaker, and their colleagues aren't going to hire or fire one teacher, best I can tell," Perry said, according to the Houston Chronicle. "That is a local decision that will be made at the local districts."

Perry also suggested that districts have added too many non-teaching jobs over the last decide. School organizations dispute that, noting that teachers don't make up a larger percentage of the workforce than they did a decade ago, and that jobs have been added to keep up with Texas' rising student enrollment.

Of course, as we noted in our recent issue of Quality Counts, some policy types have argued that reductions in the K-12 labor force are probably necessary, given the steady growth in school spending over time. Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, for instance, argues that tough budget times can be good for education, in that they force schools to make the tough but wise cuts that don't get made when budgets are flush.

What's your take? Are the projections on school losses emerging from the state on target, or off base?

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