Well over ten years ago, our country went through a terrible recession, or, as some called it, an economic downturn. The circumstances of that economic crisis are much different than what we are facing today, but some of the results are similar. The impact on the national, state, and local spending plans during this pandemic is not yet fully understood, but it will not be good news.
As our elected leaders grapple with this significant issue again, it would be beneficial for those leaders to remember what happened in the few years following the bottom dropping out in 2008. Reductions were made and jobs were lost, but public education suffered more from these cuts than any other facet of the government. Those losses resulted not only in the loss of jobs in the teacher corps, but it caused the teaching profession to lose prominence for career choices by college students. That, along with the increased accountability requirements that spread across our states during the same time period, has caused a critical shortage of high-quality candidates to fill the many vacancies in our school divisions.
The revenue reductions, particularly at the state level in Virginia, made during that time were not only high dollar items, they were made in areas that have continued to cause school divisions to lag behind in trying to compete for the best professionals coming out of colleges and universities. The shortages started out in hard to fill areas such as math, science and career and technical education, but now has grown to all teaching positions…even elementary.
Many of the reductions made by the General Assembly have yet to be restored. While there is no evidence to prove this, it would seem to be true that persons or political groups who saw the growth in public education funding over the two or three biennia as a threat to other programs and saw the recession as an opportunity to make changes that stunted that growth.
Needless to say, this current pandemic has more issues than money, but I fear that when the knives are drawn to make the budget cuts, public education may be used again as an option. We have all seen what teachers have been through since March 13 in Virginia, and, according to many reports, they have changed their delivery options and learned to instruct remotely, even without significant prior training. Other school division employees have adjusted and continued to work in conditions that have not existed in any current individual’s lifetime.
There certainly will be critics that read this and say teachers (and others) have been paid for working much less during this current crisis. I would submit that teachers are feeling the pain of no contact as they view their students remotely. We can see that they are doing their jobs. If there are slackers out there, they are the significant minority, and, I would submit that they were probably hired because of the fact that there were no better options due to the reductions made in the recession ten plus years ago. We do not know what is going to happen in the near future because we have never seen anything like this, but it is pretty certain that public education will continue to be (maybe more than ever) a major contributor to solutions that will come forward.
Don’t let this happen again. Find another place to make reductions. Public education has carried this nation for many years. Don’t listen to the critics and allow another crushing blow to K-12 education in our local school divisions. Members of the General Assembly today may not have been around in the previous recession. Pull the files. Ask some questions. Make teaching the high-quality profession it should be and keep our students on the path to success.
~ James T. Roberts, Ph.D., retired Superintendent, Chesapeake Public Schools