Over the last five years, the number of students enrolled in K-12 schools has gone up by 1.6 percent, and to keep up with that growth, the country would have needed to hire an additional 132,000 teachers, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. But instead, over that period the U.S. slashed 258,000 jobs in local education, a group mostly made up of teachers (although one that also includes counselors, administration, and aides). That leaves the country with a deficit of 389,000 educators.
“A ‘teacher gap’ of this magnitude means not only larger class sizes, but also fewer teacher aides, fewer extracurricular activities, and a narrower curriculum for our children,” EPI’s Heidi Shierholz writes in the report. It also notes that the gap between hired staff and student needs is probably even wider, given that the number of children living in poverty increased over that period, which would mean an increased need in support services. The U.S. just hit a record in the number of homeless students in its schools, and in 17 states the majority of students are now poor.
Teacher layoffs have been a significant part of the trend in declining public sector payrolls during the recession and recovery. The government has shed 657,000 jobs over that period. That decline stands in sharp contrast to the Bush years and other recovery periods after recessions. If these jobs hadn’t been lost, the unemployment rate would likely be at least a full point lower. These severe losses haven’t just been an inevitable consequence of the financial collapse; they have been fueled by the drive to austerity and deficit cutting during a weak economy.