Who Are America's Schools Laying Off? Not Teachers, Mostly

The end of summer means America's kids are headed back to school, where the hallways and offices will be slightly emptier than last year.

From May through July, local governments let go roughly 28,000 education workers, according to the Labor Department, continuing the long period of layoffs that stretches back to 2008. With a new academic year in front of us, I wanted to take stock of exactly what those cuts might mean for schools by looking at who has been getting the ax: teachers, or other workers, such as administrators? Are kids suddenly being funneled into larger classes, or there just fewer assistant principals roaming the halls? 

The answer might be somewhat comforting to parents: Over the last few years, a least, it's mostly been employees in the "other" category getting pink slips. 

The graph below is based on data from the Census' annual survey of state and local government payrolls, which recently released its numbers for 2011. At least through last year, non-instructional staff have suffered the brunt of layoffs since the recession. 

Schools_Firehouses_and_Police_Stations.PNG

It's not just schools following this firing pattern. Police departments have fired fewer officers than administrative staffers. Fire departments have added firefighters and cut other employees. So when it comes to essential functions, state and local governments appear to have focused cuts on the administrative end, while keeping as many employees around as possible to provide services.

Even if fears that school layoffs are mostly devastating teachers are misplaced, that doesn't mean parents shouldn't care that public schools across the country will be using the next year to teach themselves a lesson for the future: how to maintain the quality of their school with fewer workers.

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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