Florida teacher shortage: More than 2,200 jobs open halfway into school year, union says


Halfway through the school year, Florida’s public schools need to hire 2,217 teachers to fill open jobs in classrooms across the state, a sign of Florida’s growing teacher shortage, according to the statewide teacher’s union.
State schools had 700 more teacher vacancies this month than at the same time last year, with openings in nearly all subjects, from high school math to middle school civics to every elementary school grade, said Cathy Boehme, a legislative specialist with the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union.

“All students deserve well-prepared, skilled teachers,” she told the State Board of Education, meeting Wednesday in Pensacola. “We’re falling farther and farther behind.”

In Central Florida, school district websites currently list dozens and dozens of open teacher jobs, including about 35 in Orange County. Those openings include a spot for a physics teacher at Oak Ridge High School, a math teacher at Blankner K-8 School and a fourth-grade teacher at Millennia Elementary School.

Boehme said “there are open positions all over the state” and urged the board to push legislative leaders to provide more money that can be used for teacher pay. “If we want our field to be competitive, we have to address funding,” she said.
Her comments echoed those of Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of Escambia County schools. “There’s not enough teachers on the bench, and the bench we have is not deep enough to meet our needs,” he told the board. “We’re going to have to work together to find solutions to those problems.”
Some board members agreed. Michael Olenick said tackling the issue, and offering suggestions to the Florida Legislature, was one of his top priorities. “How do we attract and retain highly qualified teachers?”
Florida schools have been wrestling with a teacher shortage for the past several years,when they began noting an alarming shortage of elementary school teachers. Florida’s universities used to graduate all the new elementary school instructors they needed but enrollment in education colleges has dropped and that is no longer true.
The search for instructors for traditionally hard-to-fill jobs — math teachers and those who work with children with disabilities, among others — has gotten tougher, too.
Many educators say Florida’s problem is relatively low pay. Its usually in the bottom 10 when the states are ranked by average teacher pay. Low pay coupled with the state’s controversial 2011 teacher merit-pay law, which tied teacher evaluations to student test scores, have soured many people’s views of the teaching profession — and led some teachers to leave long before retirement.
Boehme also spoke to the state board in August, telling members Florida public schools had more than 4,000 openings in the two weeks before school started, 1,000 more than the prior year.
Wednesday, she told members schools are also scrambling to hire enough teacher’s aides who help out in classrooms, with low pay an issue there, too. “Please address the funding issue,” she said.

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