Iowa could lose more than 21,000 education jobs over the next three fiscal years if additional federal aid isn’t provided to help shore up state revenues that have been devastated by the COVID-19 economic shutdown, according to an analysis released today by the National Education Association. 

Nationwide, the NEA projects that the United States could lose 1.9 million education jobs over the next three years, or approximately one-fifth of the workforce for all public schools and public colleges and universities if the Senate doesn’t pass the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act. 

By comparison, 300,000 education jobs were lost during the Great Recession, which could make the COVID-19 recession more than six times as bad for education as the 2008 financial crisis, the organization said in a June 9 letter to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. 

The NEA estimates that without additional federal emergency aid, state general fund revenues in support of education could fall by about $200 billion. That would affect about one-fifth of the education workforce, after accounting for the use of state rainy day funds and funding available under the CARES Act.

The HEROES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 15, includes $915 billion in direct relief for state and local governments that can be used to pay vital workers such as educators. It also includes $90 billion in additional education funding to support students and to help save educator jobs.

“The American economy cannot recover if schools can’t reopen, and we cannot properly reopen schools if funding is slashed and students don’t have what they need to be safe, learn and succeed,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said in a press release. “Communities and families across the nation are feeling firsthand the pain of this economic crisis. Congress must put aside partisanship and take immediate action to save millions of jobs and ensure students don’t pay the price if states are forced to make deep cuts to education funding.”

If the Senate provided at least what the House did for education stabilization funds, more than 800,000 education jobs could be saved, including more than 673,000 K-12 and 153,000 higher ed jobs, the NEA data shows. 

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, said she and her staff have just begun sifting through the numbers provided by the NEA. She broke away a few minutes from a national conference call with NEA officials explaining the report to state education leaders to talk to the Business Record. 

Very few reduction-in-force notices were handed out by Iowa school districts in mid-April, Cobb said, which was the deadline for districts to provide notice.  

“We remember the last recession we had in Iowa and how that impacted state revenue and ultimately impacted what was available for the state budget and for schools, and we are worried about what the future looks like,” she said. Because the state typically makes staffing adjustments through attrition rather than layoffs, what will be more indicative will be how many vacant positions go unfilled by the school districts next fall, she said. 

“We are looking at what the requirements may be for schools to open safely and operate safely,” she said. “I think that certainly that speaks to more adults in the building, rather than less.  … I think the needs are going to be significant. And so I do think that some additional support from the federal government to help with all that would be very welcome to our local school districts.”  

Budget cuts disproportionately affect students of color, who are more likely to attend schools that rely on federal Title I funding to lower class sizes, provide free- and reduced-lunch programs, protect fine arts, and offer other education specialists, the NEA said. Those services, in addition to school personnel, are likely to be cut as states grapple with budgets that are now in the red.  

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the inequities facing our most vulnerable students,” Eskelsen Garcia said. “Families of color and those in lower-income brackets have been hit hardest by the pandemic, both in terms of infection rates and in terms of economic ramifications such as job loss and pay cuts. We are seeing an increase in food insecurity and mental health needs, as well as compounded learning losses due to the digital divide among our black and brown students. It is a colossal crisis.”