Florida is short more than 5,000 teachers — A combination of the pandemic and low pay are to blame

School Teachers – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Drazen Zigic

The Florida teacher shortage has worsened since the beginning of the new school year, with teacher vacancies surging to more than 5,000 according to data collected from the Florida Education Association.

According to FEA President Adam Spar, there are also 4,000 openings for other school staff positions.

The initial findings were released in August, but because of such high figures, the organization decided to recount vacancies again in October and discovered an increase. FEA’s Spar went on TikTok on Sunday to bring light to the staffing situation, stating that Florida had about 5,100 positions available.

“These numbers and trends are an alarm bell going off for our public schools, and state officials need to start listening,” Spar said. “Educators have made clear why they’re leaving our schools, and young people will readily share why they don’t want to pursue an education career.”

The FEA said the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled shortages within the state, as well as the connection to low pay.

The data emphasizes all of the challenges Florida’s education system is facing, where school boards and teachers have been at odds over mask mandates.

‘Alarming Vacancies’ in Support Staff

According to the FEA’s full survey results, the number of teacher vacancies as of August 2021 was much higher than a 67% increase from August 2020.

“We are now two months into the school year, and by this point, those numbers typically drop significantly. However, this year is different,” Spar said in his TikTok video.

The results also found a worrisome number of vacancies in the support staff categories, including “75% of all districts advertising openings for bus drivers and hundreds of listings for custodians, office managers, and food service workers.”

To illustrate how serious the problem is, Spar scrolled through several different districts’ job listings during the video. There are 278 vacancies in Duval County in northeast Florida, and openings in South Florida’s Broward County for 89 elementary, 41 high school, and 25 middle school teachers.

Teachers’ average salary in Florida ranks 49th in the nation, more than $10,000 less than the national average, which was $65,090 for the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Education Association.

The upcoming survey will be conducted in January after classes resume from winter break. 

Just last week, the US Department of Education sent a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran inquiring about the status of Florida’s plan to use COVID-19 relief funds for schools, and emphasizing it is needed to unlock more than $2.3 billion in the remaining American Rescue Plan funds.

“The U.S. Department of Education (Department) has now received an ARP ESSER State plan from 51 of 52 State educational agencies (SEAs), with the exception of the Florida Department of Education,” wrote Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant secretary for the agency’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The Florida Education Department’s “failure to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential ARP ESSER resources that are needed by school districts and schools to address the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic,” Rosenblum noted in the letter.

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