Schools and educators have pretty bad memories of the Great Recession. Now that the prospect of an economic downturn has entered the mainstream, those recollections might get harder to avoid.
We talked with a district business official and several analysts about what the prospect of a financial slump might mean for K-12 in a new Education Week story. It’s way too early to know when such a downturn might occur, or its severity. But if or when things slow down, discussions among schools could quickly turn to how they’ll handle it.
Remember: In the wake of the recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009, Congress pumped tens of billions of dollars into elementary and secondary schools (as well as higher education) through what’s known as “the stimulus.” At the time, Democrats controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency.
So if there’s a significant economic slide, should schools expect the same? The short version of the answers we got was: No.
“The federal government doesn’t have the ability to lower interest rates and add new spending as easily as it did in 2009,” Sarah Abernathy of the Committee for Education Funding told us.
One thing to keep in mind, however. When we talked to Sharie Lewis for the piece about her experience on the business side of Portland, Ore., public schools during the recession, she noted that the full impact of the budget cuts and subsequent staff reductions didn’t really hit until the 2010-11 school year, well over a year after that recession officially ended. So there may be a delay between the start of a downturn and when schools start feeling the pinch.
Lewis, who now oversees business operations for a smaller district (also in Portland), said high schools could be particularly hard hit by recession-induced cuts. And it’d be impossible for her to avoid looking at cuts to classroom staff.