Florida has severe shortages of teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other support staff needed to serve our students. The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the problem, but shortages were a pre-existing condition. Florida has long-standing problems with retaining and recruiting public school employees.
The shortages play 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 Legislature can change the shortage situation. The FEA is advocating for several actions during the 2022 Legislative Session, including providing fair, competitive pay for teachers and staff, reducing standardized testing and removing the high-stakes associated with tests, 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.
In August 2021, on the eve of the new school year, there were nearly 9,000 vacancies for teachers and school staff. To be exact, there were 4,961 teaching vacancies and 3,753 vacancies in the support staff categories.
The teaching vacancy number represents an increase of more than 67 percent from August 2020, when there were 2,962 advertised positions. It is a 38.7 percent increase over the vacancies reported pre-pandemic in August 2019. Comparable staff figures are not available for those earlier years, but anecdotal evidence and news reports suggest that our districts are facing increased difficulties in hiring support staff. School administrators in some counties have reportedly subbed as bus drivers and custodians, and some districts have considered closing selected schools due to shortages.
Given the number of teaching vacancies in August 2021, more than 450,000 Florida students may have started the school year without full-time, certified teachers in their classrooms.
Why schools can’t attract and keep enough teachers and staff
There are several reasons for the shortages:
- Pay, with Florida ranking 48th 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.
- 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 and educators deserve real, long-term solutions to the staffing crisis:
- Pay teachers and staff the salaries they deserve. The Legislature has made progress on pay in recent years by dumping failed bonus programs and by moving to raise wages for beginning teachers. However, these efforts left some veteran educators earning the same salaries as brand-new teachers, and failed to provide fair, competitive wages for education staff professionals.
- Allow qualified, experienced teachers to earn multi-year contracts rather than face dismissal annually.
- Reduce the time spent on testing and test-preparation so that teachers have time to teach and students have time to learn.
- Restore autonomy to professional educators so they can provide each students with the instruction they need instead of being forced to stick to scripted lessons.
- Address student debt through incentives such as loan forgiveness, grants, scholarships and support for pre-service teacher programs.
- Provide funding and time for structured mentoring support for new teachers.
- Provide meaningful professional development for all instructional and non-instructional professionals.