New York City’s public schools used COVID-19 emergency relief funds to greatly expand staffing even as enrollment crashed, according to a new Washington Examiner investigation that points to a national trend.
“If it was so urgent during COVID that they have additional resources, then why didn’t they use it?” Heritage Foundation analyst Jonathan Butcher said to the Examiner.
New York City Public Schools have lost more than 137,000 students since the COVID-19 pandemic started — while adding more than 17,000 employees and funding universal preschool.
New York City Council members have argued that universal preschool, expanded with about $2 billion of pandemic funds, will benefit the economy by allowing more women to return to the workforce.
- Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District has increased its employee headcount by 5% as enrollment has fallen by 12%.
- Chicago Public Schools have expanded their payroll by 13% as enrollment has decreased by 11%.
THE BIG PICTURE
Nationally, from 2018-2019 to 2022-2023, the total number of public school students declined by 1.3 million amid extended school closures and historic learning loss.
- According to market research firm Ibisworld, total U.S. public school employment increased 4% over the same period, to 6.8 million, including teachers and administrative staff.
- Pandemic emergency funding often went to “things far afield of problems like students’ academic struggles,” the Senate Republican Policy Committee reported in September.
Flush with pandemic cash, public school districts are “making financial commitments that are all but guaranteed to bring financial mayhem in two years or so” when the funds expire, Marguerite Roza, the director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, warned in September 2021.
- New York City’s universal childcare program faces a $376 million shortfall in 2026 when emergency funding is withdrawn, according to the state comptroller, who urged schools to prioritize tackling learning losses.
- “In many districts, the fiscal cliff will be compounded by declining student enrollment,” Roza added. “Since district revenue is generally tied to numbers of students, fewer kids will eventually mean fewer dollars down the road… So, less revenue and more costs. Behold the fiscal cliff.”