Student Enrollment Is Down, Teachers Are Up…So What’s Financially Up?

Expert Chad Aldeman: “With More Teachers & Fewer Students, Districts Are Set up for Financial Trouble.”

The latest data suggests that more teachers nationwide are employed in American public schools today than before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, those same schools serve approximately 1.9 million fewer students (a decrease of 4 percent) than pre-pandemic.

Education and finance analyst and writer Chad Aldeman recently wrote about this seemingly conflicting situation.

A comparison of enrollment and staffing trends makes clear that public schools collectively reduced their student-to-teacher ratios over the course of the pandemic. In fact, American public schools are on the cusp of hitting all-time lows in the number of students per teacher.

According to Aldeman, student enrollment declines are widespread, with 35 states and more than two-thirds of school districts serving fewer students today than five years ago. According to Adleman, the simultaneous increase in teachers in classrooms is “thanks in part to strong state budgets and an infusion of federal funds, districts had about 20,000 more teachers in 2021-22 than they did five years earlier (a gain of 0.7%).”

The data show that a number of Maryland districts are experiencing this phenomenon.

Financial considerations

Aldeman argues that there are many complex factors relating to student-to-teacher ratios, including financial concerns. The title of his article well-summarizes his theory: With More Teachers & Fewer Students, Districts Are Set up for Financial Trouble. He further writes:

But research on class size reductions suggests their success depends on a variety of factors. And they can be expensive. Recent estimates of a law passed last year mandating low class sizes in New York City pegged the additional staffing costs at $1.6 billion a year.

Still, this analysis gives a sense of how communities’ teacher staffing levels have changed due to the pandemic. It may also help identify districts that are most in danger of layoffs in the coming years, if they were using one-time federal relief dollars to avoid making layoff decisions or to bring in additional educators to help students get back on track.

He concludes that “ultimately, a district’s funding is at least partially tied to how many students it serves, and the reductions in per-student staffing levels over the last few years may be unsustainable at current levels.”

Where Maryland stands

Enrollment is a critical factor in Maryland’s funding at both state and local levels. Despite continued concerns about Maryland’s enrollment stability, student-to-teach ratios remain a topic of interest in Annapolis. For several years now, a bill has failed that would allow class size and the maximum number of students per class to be negotiated during collective bargaining between school systems and teachers’ unions. The fiscal and policy note from last year’s bill outlines financial concerns related to the bargaining of class size:

  • State Effect: To the extent additional teachers must be hired as a result of agreements on class size reductions reached during the collective bargaining process, general fund expenditures increase to pay increased retirement costs. However, any increases are constrained by the amount of funds appropriated to the local school system by the county government and thus the total fiscal impact is likely minimal overall. Public School Labor Relations Board (PSLRB) expenditures are not affected. Revenues are not affected.
  • Local Effect: Allowing local boards of education to negotiate the maximum number of students assigned to a class may increase the number of teachers required in a local school system, which may increase total local school system expenditures on compensation for additional teachers. However, any agreement is constrained by the amount of funds a county appropriates for the local school system. Therefore, the total overall fiscal impact is likely minimal overall. Potential increases in the frequency of mediation and arbitration may increase expenditures by local school systems, which are responsible for half of those costs. Revenues are not affected.

Whether the bill is reintroduced in the 2024 legislative session is to be determined, but as recent as an October 10 Senate Finance Committee briefing suggested it was a strong possibility.

Read the full article from Chad Adelman.