Expert Chad Aldeman: “New federal data shows fewer people work in schools, but job openings are filled quickly and most positions lost were part-time.”
New federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics June 2023 jobs data provides interesting insight into the country’s public school workforce and trends in sector employment. Education and finance analyst and writer Chad Aldeman wrote about the data and public school employment, saying, “There are fewer people working in public education than there were in February 2020, before the pandemic hit. Employee turnover rates remain high this year, but schools are more than replacing the people who leave.”
Aldeman’s five key takeaways show that:
- The number of people working in education is still down
- The recovery in K-12 looks a lot like the rest of local government
- Public K-12 and higher ed are both growing
- Education has a lot more job openings than normal, but it’s filling those openings at decent rates
- The job losses were all among part-time workers, and total staffing has fully recovered
1. The number of people working in education is still down
While the private sector experienced significant job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, public education’s job losses never got as bad as, but they’ve been slower to recover.
At their worst, public K-12 and public higher education were both down about 9% (245,000 and 730,000 employees, respectively). As of the June data, public K-12 is still down 1.2% from its pre-COVID peak, whereas higher ed is still down 2.7%.
Child care providers, however, had a more challenging time and continued to:
In contrast, private day care providers had a much steeper fall (down 36% in just those first two months) but have made a steady comeback. As of June, private day cares had 49,000 fewer workers than they did pre-pandemic (down 4.6%).
2. The recovery in K-12 looks a lot like the rest of local government
According to the data, public education and local government jobs have had a similar recovery:
Education had a rockier recovery path in 2020 and 2021, but the different local government sectors have been on a remarkably similar trajectory throughout 2022 and so far in 2023.
3. Public K-12 and higher ed are both growing
Interestingly, Aldeman writes that the data shows that the “public education sector is expanding and has been throughout 2021, 2022, and now 2023.”
It’s a simple function of how many employees leave (which the bureau calls “separations”) versus how many people are hired. The chart below compares these trends across all facets of public education. Unfortunately, K-12 and higher education are lumped together here, but as a reference point, K-12 represents about three-fourths of the total.
Whereas employee turnover in education hit modern highs in 2022, it looks a bit lower so far this year. Meanwhile, public education hires are tracking slightly higher than for 2022, which was already one of the biggest years on record.
4. Education has a lot more job openings than normal, but it’s filling those openings at decent rates
Surprising for some, but data shows that public education has the lowest job opening rate of any major industry tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
As of the latest data, there were 3.2 job openings for every 100 public education employees. That’s a rate of 3.2%. For comparison, the federal government rate was 5.6%, the private sector as a whole was at 6.1%, and other state and local governments were at 6.2%.
According to Aldeman, the education sector is filling these openings “not terribly,” as the graph below visualizes an estimated fill rate by industry, which is the number of job openings divided by the number of new hires that month.
These have declined over time, save for a brief surge in summer 2020 when private-sector employers were rehiring workers without posting official job openings. It may not give much comfort, but public education employers (in green) are having an easier time filling their job openings than other state and local government agencies are in filling theirs.
5. Education job losses were all among part-time workers, and total staffing has fully recovered
Full-time classroom teachers represent only about 40 percent of the nation’s total K-12 workforce. Today, public schools employ more teachers than they did pre-pandemic. They also have more full-time school staff like school psychologists, district administrators, student support staff, and guidance counselors.
According to Aldeman, the sector mostly lost paraprofessionals and support staffers, including janitors, bus drivers, and food service workers.
The latest Census Bureau data provides another way to slice it. It shows that public schools employed more full-time instructional and non-instructional staff in March 2022 than they did at the same point in 2019. What changed was a major decline in part-time workers.
This is why it’s important to look at total staffing rather than counting individual employees. Schools cut back on the number of part-time workers and the number of hours those employees worked. But total staffing levels (in full-time equivalents) are now above where they were coming into the pandemic.
Given that these data end in March 2022, and employment numbers are showing continued growth since then, it’s quite likely that staffing levels are even higher by now. And, because student enrollment remains depressed, that means student-to-staff ratios continue to fall.
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