It’s that time of year again. The time of year when school officials make final decisions about which teachers will stay and which will leave.
Most Alabama school districts will have fewer teachers funded by the state Foundation program, the main source of funding for most districts. It’s a downstream effect of declining public school enrollment since the start of the pandemic, and it may mean job cuts.
How schools and districts make these cuts is ongoing, with many teachers learning in recent days and weeks that they won’t be returning next year.
The departure of teachers, especially non-tenured teachers, happens every year, but the loss of state-funded teachers this year is the largest since the Great Recession, according to Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey, when a few thousand positions were lost.
Ninety-nine of Alabama’s 138 school districts will have fewer state-funded teachers for the 2022-23 school year due to lost enrollment over the past two years, for a total of 230 fewer publicly funded positions.
Unlicensed teachers — those who haven’t worked in a district for three years — are usually the first to be fired. Some districts told AL.com, however, that they believe normal retirements and resignations would fill most of the gaps, and that local funding could also help retain positions.
Mackey said he expects superintendents to have carefully considered where cuts should be made at this point, after telling districts how many teachers the state would fund in January.
“So there’s no, ‘we have to wait to see how much [teachers] we will have,” he said. “They’ve known for months.”
Mackey said he doesn’t like seeing districts make a blanket decision to let all their untenured teachers go, which some will do with the idea of rehiring some of them before the new school year.
Alabama Education Association executive director Amy Marlowe said it’s been difficult for teachers who are being laid off due to district budget issues.
“Imagine having to go away all summer. Should I move? What should I do with my family? Should I enroll my children in another school system? she says. “The level of classroom instruction also declines in these systems because teachers have no choice but to go to other school districts and find other jobs.”
In August, she says, the districts that let teachers go may be the same ones that have a lot of vacancies.
Alabama’s foundation program rates state funding for teaching positions based on the number of students in each class. Public funding for schools is historically based on prior year registrations taken within 20 days of Labor Day.
In 2021, with enrollment down by nearly 10,000 students in the 2020-2021 school year, lawmakers allocated an additional $95 million to schools to avoid laying off hundreds of teachers.
Mobile County — the largest district in the state — has lost 3,000 students since 2019-20, which translates to 185 fewer state-funded teachers for next year.
However, less state funding for teacher units does not automatically mean districts will cut positions. Some districts will use local money to make up the difference.
“We’re using local money to fund all but 50 of these teaching positions,” Rena Philips, communications director for Mobile County Schools, told AL.com, and the retirements and resignations don’t should mean no reduction.
‘It’s essential to retain as many teachers as possible,’ she said, ‘because we, like everyone else, face learning loss and mental health issues – all those things that concern our whole country.”
“The last thing we wanted to do was lose all those teaching units,” Philips said, “because the most important thing these kids have is their teacher.”
Birmingham City Schools has lost 1,500 students at 31 of its schools over the past two years, costing the district 127 state-funded teachers this year. Avondale Elementary School lost 11 state-funded teaching positions — 38% of its 2020-21 teaching staff — after seeing enrollment drop from 462 to 289 students.
It’s unclear how district officials are making the adjustments because they did not return a request for comment.
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Conecuh County in southern Alabama faces the largest percentage decline in state-funded positions. The district will see a $1.5 million reduction in foundation program funding and lose 24% of its state-funded teaching positions, from 104 to 79 teaching positions.
Another 11 districts, most of which are in black belt counties, will lose state funding for 10% or more of teaching positions for the upcoming school year. It is unclear whether districts will be able to find funding from other sources to retain jobs.
Hoover lost 500 students from the 2019-20 through 2021-22 school years. As a result, the state funded 33 fewer teaching positions through the Foundation program.
Deputy Superintendent Ron Dodson said the district will reduce its teaching staff by 32 positions for the upcoming school year, but is still working on that process.
“We can say normal attrition accounted for the majority of units lost,” Dodson told AL.com.
Mackey said he believes public school enrollment has plateaued and he sees next fall’s enrollment as an indicator of long-term student trends.
“If we see another drop this fall, it probably won’t be COVID-related,” he said. “It’s going to be related to the population.”
The table below shows the evolution of staff and state-funded teachers for the past two years and the coming school year. Click here if you don’t see the table.