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



11 Thoughts to “Virginia schools missing 11,000 teachers”

  1. Starry flights

    This is totally unacceptable

  2. Steve Thomas

    Are we really “missing” 11,000 teachers, or is the number closer to the 4,600 cited in the article? That is what concerns me. A shortage of teachers has a direct impact on class-size, which has a direct impact on individual learning. A shortage of “staff”? Not so much.

    As far as class-sizes go, isn’t this the jurisdiction of the local boards, and by design, the tax-rates required to sufficiently fund the schools?

    Now, before folks get all apoplectic claiming I want to starve the schools, you couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s just make sure that when we need to raise taxes, the money goes where needed (putting teachers in classrooms to reduce class sizes, or actually building classrooms to house students, rather than trailers) and not on pet-projects and boondoggles, and certainly not in administrative overhead.

    1. Trailers are what keep class sizes from being over crowded. Where else you gonna put the kids?

      The 11,000 is an abstract…on how many teachers should have been hired across the state to fill classrooms to meet the increased number of students. Also, I think that number might include support staff like teacher aids.

      Yes, the primary responsibility is local. However, the state also changed the formula for various money given to localities. Big Dog was the expert on these numbers. If he is reading, I hope he will chime in.

      One of the issues is that the BOCS and city councils really cannot tell school boards how to spend their money. I suggest that they come up with a strong understanding.

      Two things blew me away. 1. That the problem was as widespread. 2. Loudoun County.

  3. Confused

    Elections matter.

    1. They are do, at all levels.

  4. Steve Thomas

    “The Commonwealth Institute concluded that Virginia schools are now “missing” 11,200 staff members, including 4,600 teachers. ”

    Seems like a pretty concrete estimate to me.

    “Trailers are what keep class sizes from being over crowded. Where else you gonna put the kids?”

    Seems to be a temporary solution for what appears to be a growing problem. I understand what happened; planners were caught flat-footed by the population growth in this area, especially in Loudoun and Western PWC. Fauquier and Culpeper will be next, and tax-payers aren’t happy when it comes to funding future needs. Electeds don’t want to be perceived as tax-raisers to fund this, nor are they willing to levy sufficient proffers on developers to off-set this either. Developers would rather donate to campaigns, than embed these costs into the sale price of a new home. So the kids end up in trailers, and too few teachers are teaching too many students.

    My daughter attends a private school. We are thankful that we can do this, but it has involved personal financial sacrifice. The annual cost is half what our local school systems spend per-student. Her class is half the size. Her teachers are excellent, and the “staff” is thin. She is excelling in all areas academically, and tests in the top 5% on national tests.

    Yes, the school can be selective in who it admits, and trouble makers are dealt with quickly. Yes, parents who pay to send their kids to private schools have additional incentive to be involved in their kids schooling. Yes, the public schools are legally obligated to take everyone who shows up. I recognize these challenges, and accept that the per-student costs will be more, because of this. I wish our public schools were better, and that I could send my child there, confident that she’s receiving a great education. But I can’t. Our local public schools are a mess, and the “fixes” will take much too long to take effect. I don’t blame the teachers one bit. They are at the bottom of the hill, with the students, dealing with the stuff that rolls down.

    1. Oh absolutely private school is the way to go if you can swing it.

      We had the perfect storm around here. over-building, increase in population because of buyers and those doing the grunt work, housing boom, crash, recession…no money. Schools haven’t caught up.

      What people don’t seem to realize is that the issue has become exponential. After one year it can be fixed. After 8 or 9 years, not so much.

      Those trailers have been life savers, as unsavory as they are. I guess it beats under stairwells.

      My own son left for Warrenton because of the schools. I can’t blame him but I also don’t think he can outrun it.

  5. Cargosquid

    I can see why we might be short. Rounding the salary down to $30K… that’s 330 million bucks per year. And that is a low estimate.

    1. I don’t know of anywhere teachers make that little.

  6. Cargosquid

    I used 30K because only some of them were teachers and some were staff….including people that might make lower or higher….so I went for a low estimate.

    But let’s go with starting pay in Henrico for a teacher with a BA. $40K. 440 million.

    1. Ok, that’s fair. I don’t know how much many staff were involved. The story was vague.

      A teacher here, when estimating hiring costs for the year, approaches $100k. That’s throwing in average pay, insurance, FICA, VRS contributions etc.

      I think what we need to walk away with here is that when the counties started cheaping out, (for whatever reason) the deficiencies became exponential. It will take years to right the wrong that was done to education.

      What wasn’t mentioned also was the toll NCLB has taken on education. That plus about 8 years of inadequate staffing, compounded year after year, will play out for decades. Education may never recover. I project that we will have a much under educated future. Class size will remain way too high, kids will learn less, testing will dominate, fewer people will go in to education, there will be critical shortage areas and fewer and fewer people will be able to afford college.

      Some might say the American dream is dead…or at least dormant.

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