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PDQ: Pretty Darn Quick Blog

Edujobs: What really happened?

08/31/2010

With many schools across the country now back in session, our skepticism about the layoff figures used to justify the $10 billion Edujobs payout to states has only grown. Our own research tells a very different story than what's been reported in the press.

To begin, we were certainly not the only ones baffled by how the Feds arrived at their estimate of 160,000 teachers destined to be laid off if action was not taken. The estimate didn't match what we were actually seeing in districts (see here and here for example) or even what the unions themselves projected.

For example, Maryland will get funds for 2,500 teaching jobs, but none of the largest districts (Baltimore, Montgomery or Prince George's) were planning on laying off teachers this year.

Don't get us wrong; it isn't that school districts are rolling in money. It's just that they have used, as the results of our own informal survey below shows, other (and we'd argue, smarter) measures like wage freezes, attrition and benefits concessions to avoid laying off teachers.

We also decided to call the Council of Economic Advisors, the folks charged with coming up with the projections for the bill, to find out how it arrived at the 160,000 estimate. It turns out the numbers it cited were not based on any actual need reported by districts or their states. They never surveyed districts on how many layoffs they were facing nor did they collect data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rather, the 160,000 figure is simply based on how many jobs $10 billion could fund. By borrowing against such 'expendable' expenses as food stamps, Congress came up the with $10 billion figure and the White House calculated how many jobs $10 billion could support--which is not the same thing at all as jobs $10 billion could save.

The way the funding works, not surprising to anyone familiar with federal funding, is that each state, regardless of need or how hard hit its schools were, then received a proportional share.

Of course, as most by now know, that is not how this issue has been presented to the public. Even when questioned by USA Today's Greg Toppo on how the figures came about, Arne Duncan said, "We think this number is fairly solid, and this is based upon actual -- you know the need and cuts we're seeing around the country."

Many questions remain: Was this a handout to the unions? Will states that have avoided layoffs by other cost saving measures increase their payrolls this year, only to have to lay off their new hires next year when funds dry up? Time will tell.

Update: After publication we learned that San Francisco rehired 208 of its laid off teachers.
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