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K-12 Public School Employees Have a Multitude of Concerns as Pandemic Lingers

September 15, 2021

National Poll Shows Anxiety About Student Learning, COVID-19 Risk, Personal Finances

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 15, 2021 –Ninety percent of K-12 employees are concerned about students falling behind as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, K-12 employees are working longer hours, having difficulty adjusting to changes in the nature of their jobs and are worried about protecting their families from COVID-19. Half of K-12 employees say they have faced negative financial impacts from the pandemic and are concerned about their retirement security.

These findings are contained in a new research report from MissionSquare Research Institute (formerly the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC) entitled “ 2021 Updated Survey Results: K-12 Public School Employee Views on Finances, Employment Outlook, and Safety Concerns Due to COVID-19.” The results are based on a national survey of more than 1,200 state and local government employees fielded by Greenwald Research in May 2021.

Read the report.

View the report’s key findings in an accompanying infographic and animated video.

“The research finds that many K-12 employees could be at the breaking point. They are feeling stressed, burnt out, and anxious,” said Rivka Liss-Levinson, Ph.D., Senior Research Manager at MissionSquare Research Institute. “They also feel the risks they are taking during the pandemic are not on par with their compensation, and more than one-third are considering a job change.”

“As schools are reopening amid Delta variant concerns, leaders are faced with difficult decisions. They must balance the importance of in-person learning with community health. And they also need to account for the impacts the pandemic is having on recruitment and retention of K-12 employees,” Liss-Levinson said.

“There are no easy answers, but officials would benefit from focusing on what K-12 employees say will make their workplace better: addressing health and safety concerns, issuing bonuses or raises and providing flexibility,” she said.

The report’s key findings are as follows:

  • The vast majority of K-12 employees (90%) are concerned about students falling behind as a result of the pandemic, with 65% reporting being extremely or very concerned.
  • K-12 employees were significantly more likely to consider themselves as being at a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 at work, with 47% of K-12 employees feeling that in-person work is very or extremely risky compared to 32% of other government employees.
  • When asked what would improve the workplace, K-12 employees most often recommended promoting U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines (22%), issuing bonuses or raises (21%), and allowing work from home/remote work and flexible hours (13%).
  • Most K-12 and other government employees say the pandemic has impacted the nature of their jobs, but K-12 employees were nearly twice as likely as other government workers to report difficulty in adjusting to these changes (42% and 22%, respectively).
  • K-12 employees most commonly reported feeling stressed (52%), burnt out/fatigued (52%) and/or anxious (34%) about COVID-19 while at work and were significantly more likely than other government employees to report feeling stressed and burnt out/fatigued.
  • K-12 employees were significantly more likely than other government employees to feel that the pandemic has increased public awareness of the importance of their jobs (61% vs. 37%). However, they were also significantly more likely to report that their compensation is not commensurate with the risks they are taking and that working during the pandemic has made them consider changing jobs.
  • Half of K-12 survey respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative financial impact on them and their families. Far fewer other government employees (35%) reported a negative financial impact.
  • K-12 employees were significantly more likely than other government employees to be very or extremely concerned about being able to retire when they want (44% and 36%, respectively).
  • As of May 2021, 69% of K-12 employees were working fully in person — a significantly higher percentage than the 50% of other government employees who reported no remote work. Prior to the start of the pandemic, only 18% of K-12 employees were engaged in any remote work.

This report presents the results for a subset of 493 K-12 public school employees who participated in a May 2021 national online survey of 1,203 state and local government employees. Where applicable, comparisons are made between the 493 K-12 employee survey respondents and the 710 other government employees who participated in the survey.

Visit for past infographics and reports.

MissionSquare Research Institute (formerly the Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC) promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations so they can attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings together leaders and respected researchers. More information and access to research and publications is available here.

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