[Last updated September 2022]
SOLUTIONS: Educators have thought long and hard about how to retain and recruit the teachers and support staff our students need. For a list of actions, see Solving Florida’s teacher and staff shortage.
Florida has a severe shortage of teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other support staff needed to provide all our students with the education they deserve and need. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem, but shortages were a pre-existing condition. Florida has long-standing difficulties with retaining and recruiting public school employees.
The shortage plays out as hundreds of thousands of students without full-time, certified teachers in their classrooms; as districts without enough bus drivers to transport kids or enough paraprofessionals to support teachers and students. Florida’s children deserve qualified, caring teachers and education staff professionals who can meet their needs. They deserve strong public schools.
The good news is, we can fix Florida’s shortage. Working together, we can keep great teachers and staff in our schools while creating a climate that encourages more talented candidates who love kids to enter education. FEA advocates several actions now and during the next legislative session, including providing fair, competitive pay for teachers and staff, reducing standardized testing, and allowing qualified teachers to earn multi-year contracts rather than be faced every year with a “pink slip.”
Shortages by the numbers
The Florida Education Association surveys K-12 educator vacancies each August and January, compiling the number of advertised vacancies listed on school district websites.
FEA first began counting advertised vacancies for teachers in August 2016, when there were 2,400 open teaching positions listed on websites.
By 2021, FEA was counting vacancies for both teachers and support staff. In August 2021, on the eve of a new school year, there were nearly 9,000 vacancies for the two groups, breaking down as 4,961 for teachers and 3,753 for support staff.
By August 2022, the situation was worse. FEA tallied a total of 10,771 advertised vacancies, with 6,006 for teachers and 4,765 for support staff — teacher aides, Exceptional Student Education (ESE) and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food-service staff, custodians and other essential employees.
Why schools can’t attract and keep enough teachers and staff
There are several reasons for the shortages:
- Pay, with Florida ranking in the bottom five nationally for teacher salaries and many of our education staff professionals earning poverty wages.
- Lack of support.
- Lack of flexibility in instruction and the need to “teach to the test.”
- Lack of multi-year contracts for teachers, which means that qualified, experienced educators face getting a “pink slip” every year.
- Overcrowded classrooms.
Too many politicians treat public schools and the people who work in them as punching bags. When the profession is repeatedly attacked; when the contribution teachers make to students and communities goes unrecognized; when bureaucrats who’ve never spent a day in a classroom tell teachers how to do their job — then it becomes difficult to attract and retain dedicated and qualified education professionals.
This shortage robs our students of the opportunity to learn and puts their safety at risk. Districts deal with teacher shortages in classrooms by hiring untrained teachers with temporary certificates as well as large numbers of substitutes and permanent substitutes. Shortages among bus drivers, counsellors, school resource officers and other education staff professionals threaten the safety and well-being of our students.
A worsening problem
Without legislative action, this critical shortage will only get worse, as our schools have problems both recruiting and retaining teachers.
Fewer young people are entering the profession:
- Only 5 percent of high school students are interested in becoming teachers, according to a 2018 survey from ACT of about 2,400 students.
- Fewer young people are choosing to become teachers. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reports that, between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 academic years, there was a 23 percent decline in the number of people completing teacher-preparation programs. The Florida Department of Education’s recent Critical Shortage Areas Report shows that Florida’s teacher education programs are graduating only about a third of the candidates needed in our classrooms.
- According to a survey by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, deans of colleges of education said the No. 1 reason for dropping enrollment numbers was the perception of teaching as an undesirable career. That perception is likely based on complaints about a lack of professional autonomy and low wages, the deans said.
Those who do become teachers are leaving the profession sooner. Even before the Covid pandemic, 40 percent of Florida’s new teachers left the classroom within their first five years in the profession, state records show. This is 15 to 20 percent above the national average, depending on the year.
Time for action
To address the growing teacher and staff shortage crisis in Florida’s public schools, lawmakers must first take the time to listen to the professionals who are in the schools every day doing the work to make sure our students are successful.
Students, parents and educators deserve real solutions to the staffing crisis.
- FEA op-ed: The good news about the teacher and staff shortage? We can fix it
- NEA: Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals
- AFT: Teacher Shortage Task Force Report