Reframing teacher layoffs – is this fundamentally a problem of money?

June 17, 2010 •

This week Charles Lane wrote an interesting piece in the Washington Post skeptical of the terms being used to sell an administration proposal to spend $23 billion backstopping sliding school revenue. The administration hopes to save 300,000 teaching jobs and prevent dramatic increases in class sizes—both of which Lane argues are overblown.

The costs of running schools have gone up by 2-4 percent, but tax revenues have gone down. So there is disconnect. In the short term it is inevitable that there will need to be some combination of more revenue and fewer teachers.

But the character of the problem encompasses more than the present year’s budgets. Costs for running schools have been rising faster than economic growth for decades, leading political leaders to assume they have only two choices: increase spending in real terms, or decline. There are more alternatives available—different choices for how to respond to the problem.

This is where the real issues lie, and where the most interesting questions lurk. Are the perennial budget constraints on schools a condition? Or are they a function of the school and labor models? Can schools be organized so they are more effective, for less money?

We may be surprised to find where these questions lead.

Image: Teachers Protest Layoff, Washington Post