- Women, especially teachers, are carrying much of the financial burden as states slash budgets and education spending during the pandemic.
- June Carbone, Nancy Levit, and Naomi Cahn are law professors tracking how the pandemic is affecting women and contributing to inequality in all types of industries, from public schools to hedge funds.
- They found that the percentage of women working as K-12 teachers is growing, but the diminishing education budget is leading to lower pay and fewer promotions and leadership opportunities.
- Providing government assistance to states — also known as countercyclical assistance — and advocating for more federal control over state budgets could help public schools and teachers pull through.
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States are seeing enormous budget shortfalls because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the consequences for teachers and other public school employees could be dire. At least 640,000 education jobs in state and local government vanished between February and August 2020.
The states, which provide an average of about 47% of US public school funding, are cutting school spending because their tax revenue is declining and they have no easy recourse to balance their budgets; unlike the federal government, states can’t just print money.
Negotiations continue around another pandemic relief bill, which would include money for states to spend on public education. But lawmakers have passed no measures since May, when the House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill that stalled in the Senate.
We study families, employment, corporations — and gender. We are tracking how the coronavirus pandemic is underscoring the disproportionate financial burden women bear when states slash their budgets in times of recession.
Without sufficient federal aid, recessions have historically prompted job losses, pay cuts, and high turnover that burden school districts for years. Because most public school teachers are women, they are affected more.
We are examining this issue and others more deeply in a book we are writing called “Shafted: The Fate of Women in a Winner-Take-All World.” It explores the jobs women do from public schools to Walmart or hedge funds and demonstrates that the forces that have produced a highly unequal economy have undermined women’s well-being.
What we’ve found so far is that women in almost every field have lagged behind men in pay, promotions, and leadership opportunities. And in K-12 schools, this issue can appear starkly.
The government’s role
Historically, the federal government has implemented policies aimed at keeping the economy afloat during recessions.
During the Great Recession, for example, the 2009 stimulus package included money that cushioned the impact of the recession on the states. Economists largely agree that the policy worked. The spending bolstered state budgets, helping to prevent massive layoffs and prompt the start of a recovery.
Nationwide, education spending averages about 30% of state budgets, with two-thirds of the funds supporting K-12 education. More specifically, the average state expenditures are 21% on elementary and secondary education and 10% on higher education.
After Republicans swept Congress in 2010, however, the