photo: ne* via Flickr

If schools across the country received aid checks from the federal government in March or April, they would have torn up the pink slips they put out in a preliminary fashion and planned for the school year ahead. But the state fiscal aid bill didn’t pass until August, just a month before the new school year. As a result, school districts have to scramble – and many of them won’t rehire until later in the year:

As schools handed out pink slips to teachers this spring, states made a beeline to Washington to plead for money for their ravaged education budgets. But now that the federal government has come through with $10 billion, some of the nation’s biggest school districts are balking at using their share of the money to hire teachers right away.

With the economic outlook weakening, they argue that big deficits are looming for the next academic year and that they need to preserve the funds to prevent future layoffs. Los Angeles, for example, is projecting a $280 million budget shortfall next year that could threaten more jobs.

“You’ve got this herculean task to deal with next year’s deficit,” said Lydia L. Ramos, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest after New York City.

“So if there’s a way that you can lessen the blow for next year,” she said, “we feel like it would be responsible to try to do that.”

That was not really the design of the funding; it was meant to save teachers immediately. In fact, states are required to distribute the money for the current school year. However, they have until September 2012 to actually spend it. And choosing between saving jobs now and saving them in the next school year isn’t a pleasant one.

In addition, a lot of states already took this money into account when setting their budgets, expecting it to pass sooner. So while the immediate impact may not be seen, the funding will save jobs down the road. It’s far cheaper to keep someone in a job they’re already doing than to have them search for something new, retrain them, etc. In the “created or saved” scenario, you’d much rather save a job than create one, from an economic standpoint.

Still, passing a school funding bill in August isn’t exactly efficient, and forces hard choices on states and localities.

If schools across the country received aid checks from the federal government in March or April, they would have torn up the pink slips they put out in a preliminary fashion and planned for the school year ahead. But the state fiscal aid bill didn’t pass until August, just a month before the new school year. As a result, school districts have to scramble – and many of them won’t rehire until later in the year:

As schools handed out pink slips to teachers this spring, states made a beeline to Washington to plead for money for their ravaged education budgets. But now that the federal government has come through with $10 billion, some of the nation’s biggest school districts are balking at using their share of the money to hire teachers right away.

With the economic outlook weakening, they argue that big deficits are looming for the next academic year and that they need to preserve the funds to prevent future layoffs. Los Angeles, for example, is projecting a $280 million budget shortfall next year that could threaten more jobs.

“You’ve got this herculean task to deal with next year’s deficit,” said Lydia L. Ramos, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest after New York City.

“So if there’s a way that you can lessen the blow for next year,” she said, “we feel like it would be responsible to try to do that.”

That was not really the design of the funding; it was meant to save teachers immediately. In fact, states are required to distribute the money for the current school year. However, they have until September 2012 to actually spend it. And choosing between saving jobs now and saving them in the next school year isn’t a pleasant one.

In addition, a lot of states already took this money into account when setting their budgets, expecting it to pass sooner. So while the immediate impact may not be seen, the funding will save jobs down the road. It’s far cheaper to keep someone in a job they’re already doing than to have them search for something new, retrain them, etc. In the “created or saved” scenario, you’d much rather save a job than create one, from an economic standpoint.

Still, passing a school funding bill in August isn’t exactly efficient, and forces hard choices on states and localities.

David Dayen

David Dayen