Florida Teacher Shortage A Serious Concern As School Year Begins

As the school year kicks back up, Florida continues to suffer a major teacher shortage.

According to the Florida Education Association, there were over 3,500 teacher vacancies across the Sunshine State in the first week of August. 

It’s a drop from the 4,000-plus vacancies in 2018, but Florida Education Association spokeswoman Joni Branch told the Orlando Sentinel that “by no means do we view the new vacancy number as signaling any meaningful downturn in the continuing shortage.”

As Scott Maxwell notes on a commentary piece for the Orlando Sentinel, “The state’s own education department found that about 40 percent of new Florida teachers leave within the first five years of starting… They cared so much about education that they went to college, got a degree, got certified – and were then so disheartened by the reality of their chosen profession that they left.”

An estimated 300,000 students are expected to be without a permanent teacher this school year. 

Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, believes better, permanent pay is the answer to the teacher shortage.

“Florida spends almost $1,000 less per public-school student, adjusted for inflation, than before the Great Recession,” Ingram wrote in a piece for the Florida Phoenix. “That lack of funding affects everything education – the availability of music and art programs for students, the size of kids’ classes, whether districts are able to recruit and retain permanent, qualified teachers or whether students attempt to learn from a series of substitutes.”

Florida ranks 46th in teacher pay and 42nd in per-student spending.

Ingram said he’s spoken with so many educators facing financial hardships that they must work second jobs to make ends meet. 

The former high school music teacher took aim at the Florida Legislature. He said lawmakers continue to use bonuses as an answer to teacher shortages, “but a one-time payout, that you may or may not get, won’t help you qualify for a mortgage or budget for ongoing expenses.”

He said the Florida Legislature’s answer to shortages of giving one-time bonuses to teachers is not enough.

Michael Olenick, a State Board of Education member, echoed Ingram’s thoughts at a meeting back in July, calling for an overall salary increase.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran told Spectrum News 13 that the state continues to look at ways to recruit and retain teachers.

“I think a lot of it is fiscal management,” Corcoran said. “What we’re trying to do on a state level, and what I think local districts should do, is figure out the way to put resources and energies into having world-class teachers in front of students, because we know that’s the greatest determinative outcome.”

The Florida Department of Education has set aside $16 million in federal funds for teachers to earn as much as $15,000 in supplements if they work at “D” or “F” schools. The hope is that these additional funds will help the state retain high-quality, proven teachers. 

“I’m proud of our accomplishments this legislative session to make historic investments in our schools,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said following the announcement. “These additional federal dollars will help ensure that Florida not only retains and rewards good teachers but incentivizes a new group of talented individuals to enter the teaching profession, especially into areas of critical need.”

But if the permanent salaries don’t increase, there may not be enough new blood coming into Florida’s education system

According to the State University System of Florida, the number of education bachelor’s degrees dropped from 3,563 to 2,823 over a four-year span.