Report says stimulus saved education jobs, but deficits loom

By Nick Anderson
Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Federal economic recovery aid has created or saved 250,000 education jobs, the Obama administration announced Monday, although states and school systems continue to face enormous fiscal pressures.

The report issued by the White House and the Education Department does not address how many education jobs have been cut this year because of the recession, nor does it project how many are in jeopardy in the coming year.

From coast to coast, officials are warning of education funding troubles ahead. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 27 states are forecasting shortfalls for fiscal 2011 that total at least $61 billion, with five more states predicting unspecified budget shortages. Widespread state cutbacks would threaten a major source of school revenue.

"You could be looking easily at another 24 months before states come out from under water," said David Quam, director of federal relations for the National Governors Association.

This month, D.C. school officials laid off more than 380 teachers and other personnel, citing a budget shortage. Fairfax County school officials said they are considering major cuts to fill a $176 million budget hole.

Monday's report suggests that without $67 billion in federal aid provided through Sept. 30 under the economic stimulus law, state and local budgets for public schools and higher education would be hemorrhaging. The report previews more detailed education jobs data that will be announced Oct. 30.

The largest share of the $67 billion, about $35 billion, went straight to states to shore up teetering budgets, mainly for education. Another $22 billion bolstered special education instruction and programs for disadvantaged students. The rest was spent on college student aid and other programs.

The report estimates that stimulus funding accounted for 9 percent of state K-12 education spending in California, Indiana, Alabama and Oregon in the 2008-09 fiscal year. The portion for Illinois was 23 percent.

In the District, Virginia and Maryland, the report found, stimulus aid accounted for a smaller share of regular K-12 spending -- ranging as high as 2 percent.

About $30 billion in education aid from the stimulus law remains unspent, including $5 billion earmarked for school reform.

By "jobs saved," the report means potential reductions in force that had been averted through restoration of funds. The report emphasizes that figures are preliminary.

Jobs saved or created, it says, "include teachers, principals and support staff in elementary and secondary schools, and educational, administrative and support personnel in institutions of higher education."

Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the federal aid backfilled state and local funding cuts. "It was mostly saving jobs, as opposed to creating new jobs," Domenech said. But he said larger average class sizes across the country showed that many jobs were not saved.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company