On Education and the Economy

Posted by Paula Paine on February 8, 2011 in Alumni, economics, education, "School of Education"

Whatever your opinion of the status of education in America, there can be no dispute that the hard hit on the economy has left virtually every state in the nation scrambling to balance its budget, with the majority putting education under the knife to trim both positions and programs.

According to Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, 82 percent of school districts in the U.S. have eliminated approximately 275,000 educational positions to date. Sixty percent of those are teaching jobs. Domenech also explained that property taxes are the primary funding source of education, so with the sharp decline in property values across the nation, funding for education has also taken a nosedive.

In Arizona and Kansas, states where Ottawa University® has education training programs, the cuts have been deep. Arizona cut $218 million in all-day kindergarten funding to help balance its budget1; state universities faced a 12 percent across-the-board cut, upwards of $40 million for Arizona State University2; all state universities made mandatory payroll cuts of 2.75 percent and eliminated approximately 2,000 jobs over two years3; and last year’s $144 million cut to soft capital funds that pay for textbooks, desks and buses for K-12 schools means Arizona’s school funding dropped to 2006 spending levels4. Under the 2010-11 educational budget, at least 112 additional teachers will lose their jobs and class sizes will increase by about three students in every grade5. In total, Arizona will make upwards of $1 billion in educational cuts6.

In Kansas, schools are also cutting back on resources, programs and staff. Some schools have gone to a four-day school week or reinstituted half-day kindergarten in an attempt to save money, but for some districts, their efforts haven’t been enough. Johnson County’s three big school districts cut more than $33 million from their special education budget alone, with Kansas lawmakers coming in behind them to snip an additional $6.5 million7. The State of Kansas has gone to court twice to fight for school funding, but despite an initial 2006 settlement calling for $755 million in new funding over three years, economic conditions have imposed $300 million in school budget cuts over that same time period8.

From the front lines, OU™ alumnus and Kansas Superintendent of the Year Tom Trigg ’74 tells of the economic impact in the Blue Valley school district. “We have had to reduce or re-allocate our budget by $11 million over the past two years,” says Trigg. “We raised our class sizes, which reduced our elementary and middle school teaching staff by 30 positions. All salaries were frozen in addition to the cuts. We also raised fees by more than $1 million in order to avoid additional cuts in programs. Our professional development budget has been cut significantly, and all new programming without an external revenue source has been postponed.”

Despite the current doom and gloom surrounding public education, Trigg is adamant that the future of education in the U.S. is bright. “All you have to do is look around at the great students we serve and the wonderful teachers who do such an excellent job each day,” he says. “The financial picture will most likely remain grim for the foreseeable future, and we will continue to look for ways to conserve and to use our limited resources efficiently. However, education is still a viable career option for students today. Anyone who has a passion to teach should pursue that passion. Teachers new to the profession may have to substitute teach or serve as a paraprofessional, but that should be seen as an opportunity to improve their skills as they ready themselves for their first teaching job.”

To better their chances for finding a teaching position in these economic times, as well as to better prepare themselves for the classroom, Trigg advises education students to seek certification in as many additional areas as possible. “ English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) and special education certifications are extremely valuable,” he says, “even if teaching in a regular education classroom. I believe there is a place for outstanding teaching prospects even now. It may not necessarily be in the district of choice, but there will be jobs available. Once the economy turns around, more vacancies will be available and we will need teachers ready to fill those positions.”

Education researcher, teacher and Adawe Advisor Dr. Teresa Kriley agrees. “The forecast for education is that the market will improve by 2016 and begin growing by 12 percent annually, which is in keeping with other professions,” she says. “Areas such as special education, math, science, English as a second language, and technology are projected to be in particular demand. In the meantime, urban and rural districts have a high attrition rate and job opportunities are often available. Baby boomers are also retiring and many first year teachers don’t stick, so some doors will be opening up. The good news is that when openings do become available, OU education graduates are very often at the top of the list because of the excellent preparation they have received and the good reputation earned by OU’s teachers.”

As a case in point, Michelle Toon is the principal at Spring Hill Elementary in Spring Hill, Kansas. Her administrative team has hired a number of OU™ graduates in recent years because, in her words, OU’s education majors “have a very strong work ethic, are grounded, have strong leadership skills, are eager to learn, and don’t have an ‘8 to 4’ mentality.” She notes that they also tend to interview very well, can articulate their knowledge and abilities well, and are technology savvy. “The OU grads almost always rise to the top when we’re interviewing,” says Toon. That’s good news in today’s highly competitive education market.

For those unable to find one of the rare teaching jobs straight out of college, Kriley believes the preparation that OU’s education students receive gives them a skill set that is transferrable to a number of other jobs. (see page 7) “Educators learn how to be good communicators and gain expert interpersonal skills,” says Kriley, “which relate well to customer service and public front occupations. I’ve also seen many educators go into corporate training, and many do well with education companies involving software, textbooks, curriculum design, and even community college and online high school instruction. The preschool market is another area where early childhood and elementary educators can find a niche. Directors, coordinators and administrators are often in demand.”

Other highly transferrable skills noted by Kriley include the advanced technological knowledge and capabilities gained by education students, as well as their utilization of varied methods to accomplish goals, their leadership qualities and self motivation. An advanced degree in education can provide another battery of skills that are easily incorporated into the business world.

Perhaps a remark made by President Barack Obama during an address on Higher Education and the Economy at the University of Texas at Austin in August best puts things in perspective. “When I look out at all the young people here today, I think about the fact that you are entering into the workforce at a difficult time in this country’s history. The economy took a body blow from this financial crisis and this great recession that we’re going through. But I want everybody here to remember, at each and every juncture throughout our history, we’ve always recognized that essential truth that the way to move forward, in our own lives and as a nation, is to put education first.”

1 KPHO.com, March 5, 2010; “Budget Cuts Would Target Education”
2 Capitol Media Services, Phoenix, March 9, 2010; Editorial by Howard Fischer
3 The Arizona Daily Star, March 13, 2010; “Arizona Universities Ordered to Cut Payrolls”
4 John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association
5 Arizona Republic, March 27, 2010; “Teachers Seek Alternatives to Layoffs”
6 Phoenix Business Journal, January 15, 2009; “State Lawmakers Considering Education Cuts” by Mike Sunnucks
7 Kansas City Star, April 4, 2010; “KS: Kansas Legislature pares state aid for special-needs students” Jim Sullinger
8 Lawrence Journal World, November 11, 2010; “Funding Pleas” – Editorial