ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
American education is so decentralized it's hard to get a fix on what's happening nationally. But that's what Sean Cavanagh tries to do. He covers state education policy for Education Week, and joins us now. Hi.
SEAN CAVANAGH: Hi, good to be here.
SIEGEL: And first, do you have any sense of how many teachers could be laid off in the coming school year?
CAVANAGH: Well, there's no real way of knowing. And the estimates, as you mentioned, do vary considerably from state to state. The estimates of total layoffs for school employees were up around 60,000; but some of those have been pared back a bit as state revenues have picked up a bit and things have looked a bit more optimistic. But there will be layoffs and they will be significant in many, if not most, states.
SIEGEL: And when you write about layoffs in one city or state or another, do you see recurring patterns of who's getting laid off, what kind of teachers or what point in their careers that they're at? Or does it vary a great deal?
CAVANAGH: For a long time, teachers who had more seniority were most likely to be protected, although many states right now are moving away from that.
SIEGEL: Short of layoffs, I assume school districts are also cutting a great deal. Typical ways of cutting spending?
CAVANAGH: A lot of cuts to extra curricular programs. We see cuts to professional development, you know, the training that teachers get every summer - a lot of that is going away or at least being put on hold. Districts are avoiding making repairs to buildings, putting off maintenance; they're putting off the purchase of textbooks and technology. Any expense that can be conceivably pushed down the road without upsetting parents, school board members, others in the community, are likely to be put on hold for quite some time.
SIEGEL: Well, what effect does this latest way of layoffs have on the relationship between school districts and teacher unions?
CAVANAGH: I think that this has been a very difficult time, a very strained time in terms of the relationship between state legislatures, state school boards and teachers unions. Teachers unions are fighting to protect, quite frankly, the jobs of their members. State legislatures in a lot of states are trying to cut expenses in many of the ways that directly affect teachers; benefits, cuts to health care, cuts to pensions, and changes in collective bargaining which states argue will bring down the cost of districts.
SIEGEL: It sounds like a tough job market for teachers right now.
CAVANAGH: Oh, no doubt. There's a lot of uncertainty about not only what's ahead for the fall, but realistically, state budgets aren't likely to rebound for another two to four years at least, and perhaps even longer.
SIEGEL: Well, Sean Cavanagh, thank you very much for talking with us.
CAVANAGH: Well, thank you.
SIEGEL: Sean Cavanagh, who covers state education policy for Education Week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.