TAMPA, Fla. — The focus on schools lately has largely been on mask policies. Or lack of mask policies. But what about the teacher staffing shortage crisis in schools?
According to the Florida Education Association (FEA), at the start of the 2021 school year, there were more than 5,000 teacher vacancies and an additional 4,000 support staff openings. Support staff includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and teacher assistants.
"This is a major issue in the state of Florida," Andrew Spar, the president of FEA, said. "It's an issue I think nationwide."
Spar said the shortage has impacts on learning. And for some schools, not only are they lacking teachers, they're lacking in substitutes as well.
"One school, for example, a principal reported on Sunday evening, they had four teacher vacancies at the school, three paraprofessional vacancies," he said. "Then they had six teachers that were going to be out on Monday with no substitutes that were going to be available to cover for those teachers."
Makayla Keammerer is a senior at Fivay High School in Pasco County. She sees the impacts of staffing shortages daily–starting with the buses.
"School buses weren't coming [to the school] until second period," Keammerer said. "So there were all these kids that weren't getting [to their] first period or most of their second period, so they were missing that whole class."
When students made their way to class, some didn't have their regular teachers instructing them.
"[The teacher would] come to school one day, not show up the next – then just randomly said 'ok this is my last day.' So they have a permanent substitute."
Keammerer's mom, Melissa Mason, said the inconsistencies with teachers, including due to COVID-related absences, make it harder for the kids to learn the materials.
"With the substitutes, the substitutes don't do a lot of teaching," Mason said. "They just give the course requirements so the kids aren't really learning from the substitutes either."
For Pasco County Schools, there is a total of 288 openings between teachers and bus drivers.
- There are 88 available Bus Driver allocations, nine available Bus Driver Trainee allocations, and 36 Relief Bus Driver allocations.
- There are 155 instructional vacancies.
- Our average daily fill rate for substitutes is between 55% - 60%.
Both Pasco County and the FEA say the shortages aren't necessarily because people are quitting, but because fewer people are becoming teachers.
"You have a situation where kids are not getting the full promised education they deserve on that particular day," Spar said.
FEA said the governor needs to release stimulus money for schools, so teacher salaries can be raised.