US Schools Cut Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs

16 June 2020

One day in late May, high school teacher Jessica Macias put away worries about her future and began giving a class by video feed. She was teaching for Castle Park High School in San Diego, California.

Macias, who is 26 years old, had attended Castle Park herself as a student. While giving the class, she tried to forget that she would soon be without a job. When the school year ended on June 5, Macias and 204 other teachers in the Sweetwater Union High School District lost their jobs.

The night before the class, she said in an interview, "I couldn't sleep because I was thinking about not having a job."

High School English teacher Jessica Macias is seen in this undated handout photo in San Diego, California, U.S. (Courtesy of Jessica Macias/Handout via Reuters)
High School English teacher Jessica Macias is seen in this undated handout photo in San Diego, California, U.S. (Courtesy of Jessica Macias/Handout via Reuters)

Macias joined a large number of public school employees across the United States who have lost jobs because of school closures resulting from the coronavirus crisis. A Labor Department economist told Reuters that nearly 470,000 public school employees lost their jobs nationally in April alone. That is more than the nearly 300,000 total during the 2008 Great Recession, based on information from a 2014 Russell Sage Foundation paper.

The job losses at public K-12 schools are bigger and coming faster than experts predicted. Michael Griffith is a researcher at the Learning Policy Institute. He said "we're looking at record cuts in teaching positions."

School officials, public officials and teaching experts have warned the job losses will hurt the education of a generation of American students. It also could slow down the U.S. economic recovery since public schools are big employers in the country.

Blow to poor areas

Research organization The Brookings Institution said the layoffs came at the worst possible time for high-poverty schools. It published a paper in April saying more students will "fall into poverty and need more from schools as their parents and guardians lose their own jobs.

Public schools in poor areas are especially troubled because of the COVID-19 recession. Since property taxes are lower in poor areas, the schools depend more on state aid for money. With falling revenue and less sales taxes, state aid to public schools is decreasing in many places.

A bill passed recently by the U.S. House of Representatives would provide $13.5 billion in aid to K-12 public schools. The House is controlled by the Democratic Party. Republicans, who control the Senate, oppose the bill as written.

Many teachers and school officials worry that class sizes will double with fewer teachers. But Robert Hull, chief executive of the National Association of State Boards of Education, disagrees. He told Reuters that because of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, class sizes will actually get smaller when schools reopen. Different students, he said, could come to school on different days, and possibly receive video lessons other days.

More cuts in education

April was an especially unkind month to education.

The U.S. Labor Department report said that in addition to the layoffs of public schools' employees, state-operated universities cut jobs for 176,000 professors and others. And private schools, including well-known universities and K-12 private schools, were down by nearly 460,000 employees.

Susanna Loeb is a professor of education at Brown University, a private university in Rhode Island. She said she believes most of the job losses in April were non-teaching positions, as schools tend to lay off teachers last.

Like schools across the U.S., San Diego's Sweetwater already had severe financial problems before COVID-19 hit. Sweetwater official Karen Janney did not respond to attempts to reach her for comment.

English teacher Macias is out of luck. Because she had been a teacher at Castle Park for only four years, she was among the ones losing jobs.

"One of my biggest dreams was to teach at Castle Park," Macias said.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

school district - n. an area or region containing the schools that a school board is in charge of

K-12 - adj. from kindergarten through 12th grade

layoff - n. the act of ending the employment of a worker or group of workers