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November 24, 2015

Teachers and Staff Missing from Local Virginia Schools

Cuts in state support for Virginia’s schools have resulted in 11,200 missing staff because schools have eliminated positions that they can’t afford or not hired staff to keep up with growing enrollment.

All areas of Virginia are being affected, in school divisions big and small.

The largest school divisions, in Northern Virginia, are missing the most. Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties all had over 1,000 staff positions missing from their schools. Smaller divisions in Greene County, King and Queen County, Covington County, and Cumberland County had the highest percentages of missing staff among all divisions across the state. All of these school divisions would have at least 25 percent more personnel on the job if staffing had kept pace with student enrollment.

Other school divisions missing a lot of staff include Hampton and Portsmouth in Hampton Roads and Chesterfield, Roanoke City, and Richmond City in central Virginia.

Staff reductions can be attributed to large cuts in state funding that occurred during the recession. The state has cut per student support for schools by 13.6 percent since 2008-2009, after adjusting for inflation. These cuts mean the state would need to invest $1 billion dollars to reach pre-recession funding levels per student.

The consequences from these missing positions are made clear in a recent article in the Washington Post. They include teachers struggling to educate students while class sizes swell around them. Students are forced to squeeze between desks to simply get around the room. Some teachers are actually custom-building benches so they can pack all the students in.

Teachers identify larger class sizes as limiting their ability to provide instruction specific to the needs of individual students and having particular difficulty connecting with students that are struggling to learn. The article quotes Shannon Geraghty, a Prince William teacher, saying, “I felt like when I first started teaching I could connect personally with students. We just don’t have that today.”

Another consequence of missing staff is higher teacher turnover. As class sizes grow and support staff decline, teachers are put in the difficult position of doing more with less. An article in the Richmond Times Dispatch discusses the decision that teachers in Hanover County have made to retire or leave their school, because of the increased burdens placed on them. This was made worse when Hanover began requiring teachers to instruct six classes instead of five, forcing teachers to either reduce academic rigor, take too long to return work to students, or work hours well beyond the scheduled day.

Manageable class sizes and available support for teachers are essential in building an effective learning environment. But staffing levels in Virginia’s schools have dropped precipitously at the same time the state has slashed its support and enrollment has grown. These losses of teachers and important support staff show that there are very real, tangible losses from the state not meeting its obligations. That’s a failing grade that we need to fix.

–Chris Duncombe, Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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