© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Teacher and staff shortages persist across the Tampa Bay area

A group of school kids sitting and listening to teacher in classroom from back.
According to the state's largest teacher union, more than 4,000 teacher vacancies across the state still need to be filled.

More than 4,000 teaching positions need to be filled across Florida. In the greater Tampa Bay region, there's about 880 vacancies.

Halfway into the school year, teacher vacancies are still too high, according to the state's largest teacher union.

More than 4,000 positions across the state still need to be filled, according to a vacancy count done by the Florida Education Association.

Combined with support staff, such as bus drivers and nutrition workers, vacancies total 7,553.

In the Tampa Bay area, a total of 883 teaching vacancies remain. A county-by-county breakdown can be found here.

Vacancies have improved since the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, when the count was at 6,920 — higher than the previous school year's count.

But the FEA said the high numbers remain a concern.

"Typically, we see a big drop-off in the number of vacancies from the start of the school year to the midpoint in the school year, and we're just not seeing that huge drop-off like we normally would," said Andrew Spar, president of the FEA.

"What we're continuing to see is a lot of teachers who have a tremendous amount of experience walking out the door, going to other states or leaving the profession altogether."
Andrew Spar, Florida Education Association president

Additionally, because of the shortage, districts are filling vacancies with more teachers who are uncertified in the specific subject area. This year, core classes like English, reading, science and math are being taught by about 59,134 teachers not certified in that particular subject. That's up 7% from last year's 55,405.

"What you see right now is districts struggling to find people who are certified and qualified to teach these positions and having to turn to either larger classes, or temporary situations with substitutes or temporary teachers," said Spar, who added that because of this, the actual number of vacancies could be higher.

The statewide union tallies vacancies according to open positions posted on the school district's website. But the district may not post a position that's currently being filled by a substitute or temporary teacher.

According to the FEA press release, "four thousand teacher vacancies means that there are potentially hundreds of thousands of students in Florida who do not have access to a full-time teacher."

Spar said his daughter, a ninth-grader in Volusia County, had a substitute teacher for the first nine weeks of the school year. That was the third year in a row she did not have the full complement of teachers in all of her classes, he added.

"Unfortunately, it's not abnormal to see that that's happening way too often in Florida and lawmakers haven't fully addressed this issue," said Spar.

The greatest need for teachers are in the Exceptional Student Education (ESE) category, or teachers who serve children with disabilities. Other in-demand subject areas include English, science-general, math, science-physical, English as a second language, and science-Earth & space.

The FEA continued to cite low pay and "untenable working conditions because of bad policy" as reasons for teachers leaving. Florida ranks 48th in the nation in average teacher pay and 43rd in per student spending.

"What we're continuing to see is a lot of teachers who have a tremendous amount of experience walking out the door, going to other states or leaving the profession altogether," said Spar.

The state's K-12 schools have also been a battleground for culture wars in the last several years. The state has served as a blueprint for legislation restricting speech on LGBTQ topics and has banned more books than any other state.

In order to improve conditions for Florida teachers, the FEA is calling on lawmakers to invest in teacher pay, mental health, student safety and get "fringe politics out of the classroom."

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.