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Budget cuts, layoffs possible at schools across the country as ESSER funding and enrollment dwindle

Congress passed more than $190 billion in aid for schools in 2020 and 2021, called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
Blue School Lockers
Posted at 2:49 PM, May 13, 2024

COVID-era funding for schools is coming to an end.

Congress passed more than $190 billion in aid for schools in 2020 and 2021, called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER for short.

However, states must use the funds by September 2024.

“I think [it's] six times as large as the federal funding has typically been, so it’s a large influx of funds for these schools, which the schools have used very creatively to build programs. But the need for those programs have not gone, so now that money is going to go away and bring with it a necessary reduction in workforce, yet the need is no less than it was, and if anything costs have risen,” said Katie Rosanbalm, an associate research professor for the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.

Inflation and falling enrollment are also impacting district funding.

A March report from The Brookings Institution found school enrollment declined between the 2019-20 year and the 2022-23 year.

During the 2015-16 school year, 84.2% of school-aged children were enrolled in traditional public schools. During the 2022-23 year, that number was down to 80%.

“We are already struggling with keeping teachers in their roles. Now, we’re going to have a reduction in funding which is going to exacerbate the lack of teacher availability. It's going to make more burden for the teachers that are remaining in the schools,” Rosanbalm said.

Job and budget cuts are becoming more widespread.

A school district in Arlington, Texas announced plans to cut more than 250 positions at the end of the school year.

Earlier this year, a school district in Missoula, Montana announced budget cuts that could also lead to the elimination of teacher jobs.

In an email to Scripps News, National Education Association President Becky Pringle said, “As the federal funds expire, parents and educators across the country are very concerned about the threat of educator layoffs and the impact they will have on students, especially in lower-income areas.”

“We’re going to see those disparities really increase,” Rosanbalm said.

“I know that schools right now are making the tough decisions for how they will have to proceed assuming there is no funding,” she added.

She explained that schools rely on a balance of federal, state, and local dollars.

If an extension is permitted, ESSER funds may still be spent through the end of December or through March 2026.

@scrippsnews With declining enrollment and ESSER funding needing to be used by September 2024, #schools across the country could face budget cuts and layoffs. We spoke with an expert on how this could impact schools. #budgetcuts #schoolfunding #news ♬ original sound - Scripps News