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Public School Funding Sees Uneven Recovery

Washington — Teachers looking for new jobs for the next school year will find vastly different markets across the states and sometimes across school districts in the same state. Prospects range from dismal to great, even as state revenues recover from the Great Recession and many states invest more money in K-12 education.

In Philadelphia, for example, schools are still struggling after years of cuts in state education funding and shrinking student enrollment. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is threatening to lay off 1,000 staff, including 800 teachers, if the school district does not receive $216 million in supplemental funding for the next school year.

According to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the district has about 8,600 teachers, counselors and librarians. Without the extra cash, class sizes could grow from an average of 33 to 37 students in elementary grades and up to 41 in high school, according to the district.

Federation president Jerry Jordan said the situation “has created a number of dire questions to ponder.”

“How many more students won’t reach their full potential because they won’t have access to counselors, librarians and other programs and supports; how many children will become needlessly sick - or worse - because there are no nurses available; and how much more can possibly be asked of our teachers and school employees, who have already stretched themselves beyond reasonable limits to educate our children?” Jordan said.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Oregon schools project hiring some 2,000 teachers this year. This marks the biggest uptick in teacher hiring in years, in part to replace teachers who are retiring. Chuck White, executive director of the Oregon School Personnel Association, said a job fair for teachers and administrators in Portland in April drew 165 school districts, up from 115 last year.

White attributes the growing job market to school districts receiving more funding from the state and to a growing number of people retiring, perhaps because they didn’t feel they could during the recession.

“We just hope the trend continues,” White said. “A few years ago, there were no jobs for people to find.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District expects to hire 1,333 teachers for the upcoming school year, up from 718 this year, despite shrinking student enrollment, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some of the new hires will replace retiring or departing teachers.

Clark County in Nevada, one of the biggest school districts in the country, expects to hire 2,000 teachers, which would bring the district’s total to nearly 19,000 teachers. According to the Las Vegas Sun, the district will replace about 1,000 teachers who are expected to resign or retire and hire 700 teachers for new positions and another 300 to expand preschool and kindergarten, with the help of $38.6 million saved in an arbitration ruling following a contract dispute with the teachers’ union.

Precise numbers of teacher job openings for the upcoming school year nationwide are hard to come by: Many school districts must approve budgets before knowing how much state aid they will receive, or how many current teachers will either resign or retire, which means budgets are based on estimates. And some school districts will need to add or cut teaching positions due to changes in student enrollment.

According to the Obama administration, 300,000 local education jobs, including teachers, school aides and support staff, were lost between June 2009 and August 2012, contributing to larger class sizes.

Almost every state is now spending more on education than during the recession, according to Mike Griffith, a senior policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States. Many of the increases in state aid since the end of the recession have so far paid for things like increased health care costs and raises for teachers, some of whom have not received raises for four years, Griffith said. The budgets now being passed in state legislatures for the upcoming fiscal year could include enough funding to allow some school districts to start hiring more teachers again, he said.

Others are less optimistic. Daniel Thatcher, a senior policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that for many school districts, increases in state aid, which makes up an average of about 46 percent of school district revenue, have not kept pace with inflation, student enrollment growth and other expenses.

“We know that there is a recovery happening,” Thatcher said. “It’s not a fantastic recovery. What we have seen is that the increases to state aid have not been sufficient to make up for the lost ground since the beginning of the recession.”