In June of 2012, my district, Clark County School District (CCSD), the fifth largest district in the nation, eliminated more than 1,000 positions due to funding cuts required to balance state and district budgets. After accounting for retirements, resignations, and relocations, the district still had to issue 419 pink slips. It would have been even worse if we hadn’t received the Recovery Act funding, which saved or created about 275,000 educational jobs nationwide, including teaching and leadership positions in Clark County. These jobs helped ensure that students in some of our most vulnerable communities were being taught by effective educators.
Despite this, our schools are still recovering from these layoffs and the impact of the Great Recession. The COVID-19 economic downturn is likely to have a similar effect, further exacerbating the inequities for our most vulnerable students who bear the brunt of the cuts to funding and resources such as teacher and paraprofessional positions.
My district began cutting budgets two years prior to the COVID-19 crisis, as part of cost-saving measures, resulting in continual reduction of staff and resources within our schools. At my school, we used Title I money and state funding sources to retain critical, core teaching positions in mathematics and science to avoid having 45-50 students per class.
My colleagues and I teach a high number of students who have experienced serious childhood trauma; every day, we face children who may not feel safe enough to engage in learning. Every day, I seek to navigate the delicate balance of supporting them and fostering a positive, enriched classroom community while simultaneously accelerating their learning. It is a daily commitment to be fully present and the most excellent version of myself that my students deserve―on top of other expectations like lesson planning, differentiating activities to meet the needs of all my students, and building relationships with their families.
If district layoffs of effective teachers happen, a long-term substitute might pick up my job; yet more often than not, different daily subs will be hired and my class will be “covered” by other teaching staff during their prep period. Can you imagine trying to learn how to solve equations or write a persuasive essay from a different adult every day? As a result, students in traditionally underserved communities of high poverty, most specifically Black, Indigineous, People of Color (BIPOC) students will likely experience larger educational setbacks than their wealthier peers. Our students need and deserve consistency, stability, and a sense of belonging within a strong educational environment to support their academic achievement and growth.
As COVID-19 continues to negatively impact our communities, teacher layoffs could not come at a worst time for schools, particularly as increased numbers of families are food and home insecure and are in need of even more support. Teachers are typically the ones who are able to determine the support that students and families need. Research has shown that high-quality teachers are schools’ most valuable asset; they are the strongest common denominator for the largest gains in student outcomes as well as student support in social and emotional need. Schools serving BIPOC students and students of families within communities of high need tend to have a larger percentage of early career teachers than more-affluent schools. Because of these situations, it is critical to address equitable layoff policies. Teacher layoffs disproportionately affect districts and schools due to layoff policies being primarily based on teacher seniority. When teachers leave, this creates yet another barrier for student achievement, limiting their opportunities to succeed.
The state of Nevada must address the inequitable reduction in force policies to ensure districts and schools are serving the students with the highest needs and making access to high-quality teachers more equitable. While Nevada is receiving $477 million from the recent pandemic relief package to assist with the reopening of schools, this does not guarantee how funding will be spent in years to come. Let’s change the layoff policies before they become another point of inequity that disproportionately harms our students. Let’s make sure most critically vulnerable students are not left to pay the price.
Jen Loescher serves as a regional math trainer at Southern Nevada Regional Professional Development Program, supporting middle school math teachers. She is a Teach Plus Nevada Senior Policy Fellow.