On Monday, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) released “Are Floridians Ready to Go Back to School? Not Without More Teachers…”
The report analyzes Florida’s pervasive teacher shortage, outlining potential causes, from compensation to mental health, and the significant ramifications for schools and students. It also summarizes action taken at both the state and local level to combat this crisis and bolster the teacher workforce.
Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro weighed in the report on Monday.
“A strong K-12 education system is vital to Florida’s economic success. Not only is education one of the biggest consumers of taxpayer dollars – accounting for 44.4 percent of general revenue spending in the current fiscal year – but when it’s effective, it can produce an enhanced, more robust workforce capable of attaining higher earnings and greater self-sufficiency,” Calabro said. “However, the ongoing teacher shortage may be compromising student achievement. In some cases, staggering vacancies are all but forcing schools to hire less qualified candidates, which often hinders learning for vulnerable students who may already be falling behind their peers. And when no skilled candidates can be found, the remaining teachers take on more responsibility, causing increased stress and burnout, ultimately leading to their departure and thereby perpetuating this vicious cycle.
“Governor DeSantis, other state leaders and legislators, and local school districts have recognized the severity of these trends, implementing new and innovative strategies to both attract and retain teachers, such as promoting transitions to education for military veterans and partnering with universities to strengthen the talent pipeline. Moving forward, Florida TaxWatch encourages these continued efforts, balancing present needs with available resources in order to provide for the best interests of students and teachers, hard-working taxpayers, and all Floridians,” he added.
Why is Florida Struggling to Find Teachers?
For the 2022-23 school year, the State Board of Education identified critical teacher shortages in several subjects responsible for developing foundational academic skills, including Reading and Math. FTW notes this is the result of both a decline in new teachers and an increase in teachers leaving the profession. One estimate from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics even found teachers leaving the profession (whether they are leaving the workforce altogether or pursuing a new career) account for approximately eight in nine of the average 300,000 total job openings per year. A recent survey by the National Education Association also found that 55 percent of current teachers are considering leaving their profession earlier than planned.
According to FTW, Florida’s mid-school year vacancies have begun to outpace the number of newly certified teachers, with nearly 4,500 reported during the 2021-22 school year. In terms of projected vacancies, which are used to determine how many positions need to be filled before the upcoming school year, there were just over 9,000 across the state that same year. As a result, schools may have begun to accept less qualified candidates to fill those vacancies, and 10 percent of teachers active in 2021-22 lacked the appropriate certifications.
While several factors have been cited as reasons for not pursuing or continuing teaching careers, compensation and mental health are prominent. In February 2021, a national survey found 78 percent of teachers reported frequent job-related stress, with symptoms of depression nearly tripling when compared to all adults.
How Has Florida Reacted?
In the report, FTW highlights efforts undertaken by the state, as well as school districts, to combat the teacher shortage. Below are just some of the ways Florida is balancing educational needs with available resources:
Increasing Pay – The National Center of Education Statistics showed Florida’s average annual salary for teachers in public elementary and secondary schools was $49,583 last year, ranking 48th among all 50 states. Recently, the Florida Legislature allocated $800 million to raise the minimum teacher pay, and now the average starting salary is ninth highest in the nation.
Supporting Homeownership – Among 50 critical professions, educators are eligible participants in the newly created Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program, which the state established to help first-time, income-qualified homebuyers pay down payments and closing costs. As another example, in Collier County, the school district is building essential temporary housing for teachers on a 35-acre parcel of unused property, allowing them to save money until they can afford to buy a house – an effort made easier by the Hometown Heroes Program.
Facilitating Pathways from the Military to Teaching – Programs such as Troops to Teachers have encouraged military personnel and veterans to forge pathways from military service to teaching opportunities, qualifying for temporary education certification.
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