Layoffs prompt teachers to move online

In what could be a result of widespread teacher layoffs, some virtual schools and online learning providers are reporting huge increases in teaching applications for the coming school year.

"We have seen at least a 50-percent increase in the number of applications we’ve received versus this time last year," said Annie Middlestadt, senior director of human resources for Connections Academy, an operator of virtual K-12 public charter schools. 

"In the states where we operate schools, the number of phone calls and eMails we’re receiving from applicants coming from brick-and-mortar schools has increased," she added.

"This year in particular, we’ve seen an increase in [the number of] applicants in some states," agreed Teresa Scavulli, senior director of the teaching effectiveness division for K12 Inc., which also manages virtual K-12 charters.

Middlestadt and Scavulli said they can’t directly attribute the increase in teaching applications to teacher layoffs or a rough economy, but both agreed the connection is likely.

Connections Academy also is seeing an increase in the number of applicants who are changing careers–for instance, math professionals who are looking to share their expertise through teaching.

Many of Connections Academy’s job applicants are through referrals from current teachers or parents who have students in the program.

At K12, the majority of teaching applicants are coming from brick-and-mortar schools, which most likely means they are a combination of teachers who have been laid off, are retiring, or are looking for a change within the teaching field.

In general, only about 3 percent of K12 instructors do not have some sort of brick-and-mortar teaching experience, with the majority having five to 10 years of experience teaching in a brick-and-mortar school.

Although a portion of states’ federal economic stimulus dollars are intended to help schools avoid employee layoffs, including teachers, many states and districts are facing huge budget deficits–and teaching positions are being eliminated to help ease monetary troubles.

In mid-July, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said he expects he will have to cut the state’s education budget for the upcoming school year because of plunging tax revenues. Riley said the cuts should not be as deep as the 9-percent reduction he had to make in last year’s budget, but it’s too early to predict an exact amount.

Tax collections for education are running nearly 9 percent below last year, primarily because of a drop in sales and income taxes. Underlying the income tax drop is the state’s 9.8-percent unemployment rate–the worst in nearly 25 years.

Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said school systems already have signed teacher contracts for the new school term, so more budget cuts shouldn’t mean larger class sizes.

She said the impact of cuts will vary among school systems, but it could include laying off untenured school support workers, canceling field trips, postponing maintenance and construction projects, cutting back on school supplies, and adjusting thermostats to reduce utility bills.

Some Alabama schools also expect to receive less local money. "What is happening at the state level is also affecting local sales taxes," Howell said.

California lawmakers warned that severe cuts to many state programs were unavoidable as the state faces a $26 billion deficit. And while lawmakers seemed more optimistic about tackling the state’s budget woes, others said education funding is one of the biggest obstacles still left.

Funding for K-12 schools is a main sticking point. Republican Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth said cuts to education were inevitable because it accounts for at least half of California’s annual budget.

The lawmakers were debating whether to suspend Proposition 98, a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1988 that guarantees a minimum level of funding for schools each year. The funding also is supposed to rise each year based on the previous budget. Among other things, money from Proposition 98 funds classroom support staff and instructional assistants.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers cut education spending by $8.6 billion over two years. Many districts are planning to lay off teachers and increase class sizes. In Los Angeles alone, more than 2,000 teachers are expected to lose their jobs.

The efforts to close California’s budget shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1 are going on against the backdrop of a deep recession that has led to an unprecedented drop in tax revenue.

Personal income tax, a cornerstone of how state government funds its operations, dropped 34 percent during the first five months of the year. The latest reports from the state controller’s office show that the slide has continued into the summer, widening the gap between California’s spending obligations and its tax income.


Connections Academy

K12 Inc.

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