Cash-strapped school districts across Virginia cut teaching and staff positions and crammed more students into classrooms during the Great Recession, as state and local funding fell off, leaving them with a huge deficit of teachers, according to a new report.
The Commonwealth Institute concluded that Virginia schools are now “missing” 11,200 staff members, including 4,600 teachers. That’s the number of additional staff members and teachers that would be working in Virginia schools if hiring had kept pace with student enrollment through the recession, when Virginia schools added more than 42,000 students to their rolls.
At the same time, the state has seen growth in the number of students who often need additional support. The report found a 39 percent rise in the number of students who are economically disadvantaged and a 33 percent increase in the number of students who enter school learning English. The homeless student population is up 73 percent, according to the institute’s report.
“What we’re seeing is dramatic upticks in student needs, and dramatic decline in school staffing,” said Michael Cassidy, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Institute, an independent group with a focus on the economic issues facing low- and moderate-income residents of Virginia.
Instead, many districts adjusted staffing ratios and hired fewer teachers and other staff members when enrollment boomed. In Prince William County, home to the state’s second-largest school district, school officials allowed class sizes to grow to the state maximum by allowing hiring to slack as more and more students flooded the district.
“In the face of state cutbacks, PWCS (and other school divisions statewide) were forced to increase class-sizes in order to maintain parent-desired programs and services,” said Keith Imon, a spokesman for the district. “As a result, class-sizes across much of PWCS are currently at or near state maximums.”
Class overcrowding is hardly news to people in Prince William County. However, until now, most people thought we were unique. The following numbers reported by the WaPo reveal otherwise:
The Commonwealth Institute heaped criticism on the state, which cut funding to schools six years ago by adjusting the formulas used to calculate how much state funding school districts would get. Local funding makes up a huge part of school budgets, but many districts could not make up for the losses in state funding.
The report comes as Gov. Terry McAuliffe begins drafting the state budget. McAuliffe has pledged to make a greater investment in education.
Many school districts across Northern Virginia have fewer teachers per thousand students than they did in fiscal year 2008. Alexandria and Arlington, which had among the highest overall teacher-to-student ratios in the state in 2008, now are “missing” 181 and 147 teachers respectively. When it came to losses in teachers, Prince William County was among the hardest hit school divisions in the region. Even though the district never laid off teachers, Imon said hiring slowed. The Commonwealth Institute found Prince William is “missing” 367 teachers.
Loudoun, the state’s third largest district, is “missing” 832 teachers, the most out of any district in Northern Virginia.
Fairfax County has actually gained teachers but they are hurting this year. It has started to catch up to them.
Teachers who quoted 30 as a critical mass number have either forgotten or never learned that 25 is really critical mass. Once over 25 the class dynamic really changes. Of course, 32 kids is nothing new. I have had a couple of classes with 38 kids. You can’t move around and you have to keep the desks there, even with smaller classes the rest of the time.
Another issue parents might not realize is that teachers who leave mid-year often are not replaced. I know this for a fact. I wasn’t replaced by a certified teacher in math or anything else. A substitute stayed on for the year. She was a nice lady but she didn’t have the credentials nor was she strong in math. I retired at Christmas break. That’s a long time for kids to be without a certified teacher.
Parents need to pound our Board of Supervisors over this issue. The School Board has no way to generate revenue. The money must come from the BOCS. It can’t all be done in one year. It will take time but there needs to be a game plan to reduce class sizes down to 25 students each year during the budget process. This reduction needs to be it’s own five-year plan. There can be no political excuses to skip the commitment.
On the state level, the same goals need to be formulated for all jurisdictions in Virginia. No more snagging state money when there are budget issues. This commitment needs to be removed from the political process. It just needs to happen, regardless of which party is in control.
Finally, the General Assembly needs to take the test score result factor out of teacher evaluations. How freaking effect can anyone be when they have 33 students in a class 7th period when 9 of those students don’t speak English and 12 have learning disabilities? The realities of what teachers face daily fall short of the political process.
Finally, kids’ educations suffer horribly enduring this situation year after year. The people of Virginia need to do something about it. NOW!
Further reading: Washington Post