As federal stimulus dollars expire this year, 57 percent of school districts say they'll have to cut teachers in core subjects.

The number of openings for U.S. teachers has dropped dramatically in the last few years, a reflection of the economy for scores of local education grads hoping to land jobs this summer.

“We are operating in a very different climate than in years past. The budget cuts mean that we simply don’t have as many positions available for external hiring compared to the past,” said Sheila Redick, spokeswoman for Memphis City Schools’ Office of Strategic Teacher Recruitment and Staffing.

For two years, the pain has been masked by $80 billion in federal stimulus dollars sent to school districts. As those dollars expire this year, 57 percent of school districts across the nation say they’ll have to cut teachers in core subjects, according to a report released June 29 by the Center on Education Policy.

“Clearly, schools are in bad shape, probably the worst shape they have been in decades,” said CEP president Jack Jennings.

“They are affected by the housing market, and drops in both state and federal funding. It’s difficult to collect taxes on homes in foreclosure,” Jennings said. “If you have houses on the market that are not selling, the local tax assessment goes down.”

The lost income means about 70 percent of all school districts cut teacher jobs or programs in the 2010-11 school year, according to the report. An even greater proportion of districts — 84 percent — anticipate funding cuts in the coming year, many in core subjects.

The University of Memphis gauges teacher demand on attendance at its annual job fair.

From 2008 to 2011, the number of school districts sending teacher recruiters dropped from 36 to 26, said Clay Woemmel, associate director of the university’s career services office.

“In this last year, one of our staff members called every district in the database to increase attendance,” he said. “And it worked, but it only increased by two districts.”

Sutton Flynt, director of teacher education at the University of Memphis, blames the tight job market partially on alternative certification programs, including Teach for America — which this year will place 150 teachers in the city schools.