Public School Employment Hits Decade Low in Pennsylvania

Employment in Pennsylvania's public schools was at a decade low in the 2011-12 school year, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Public elementary and secondary schools saw a drop in employment during the school year (which we define as the July 2011 to June 2012 period) of a little less than 17,000 jobs (a decline of 6%). All told, Pennsylvania schools had fewer teachers and other education professionals in 2011-12 than they did a decade earlier in 2001-02.

So how did Pennsylvania compare to other states in education job losses? Table 1 below ranks the percent change in employment in public elementary and secondary schools between the start of the recession and the 2011-12 school year. Out of the 43 states for which we have data, the loss of school employment in Pennsylvania is the 14th highest. 

To put those numbers in perspective, Pennsylvania ranked 38th among the 50 states in private-sector job losses between 2007 and 2009, which corresponds roughly to the Great Recession. That is, only 13 states (including the District of Columbia) fared better than Pennsylvania in recession-driven job losses. Suffering a less severe recession, Pennsylvania had an unemployment rate that was about a percentage point below the national average during the recession and early part of the recovery. 

Why would Pennsylvania, after experiencing a less severe recession compared to most states, make relatively larger reductions in school employment?

Quite simply, it boils down to priorities. The Corbett administration has made deep cuts to schools, while sitting on surplus funds, refusing to enact a robust Marcellus Shale drilling tax and implementing new corporate tax cuts that have drained hundreds of millions more from state coffers.

As I noted last week, between the first quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2012, drilling in the Marcellus Shale added just over 21,000 jobs. Now we know that roughly eight out of every 10 of those jobs gains were erased by a single year of job losses in the commonwealth’s public schools.1 This is one of the reasons that Pennsylvania’s jobless rate has been stuck at the same level for much of the last year.


Footnote 1. At it's peak in the 2009-10 school year, public elementary and secondary schools in Pennsylvania employed 280,269 teachers, administrators and support staff. Since the 2009-10 school year, employment in elementary and secondary schools has fallen by 20,000 jobs (a decline of 7%), with most of those losses coming in the 2011-12 school year.


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