With summer waning and kids soon to fill classrooms, schools nationwide are trying desperately to fill open positions.
The U.S. Department of Education found nearly half (45%) of public schools started the 2022-2023 school year without a full teaching staff. In high-poverty neighborhoods, 57% of schools had at least one teacher vacancy. Teachers say a fix starts with better pay.
"When adjusted for inflation, our teachers' salaries are stuck in the 90s," said Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach for America.
Average starting teacher pay is just over $40,000 a year. Some school districts, like San Diego, just agreed to give teachers a 10% pay raise.
But teachers say it’s not just about money. Across the country, shrinking budgets mean teachers are stuck paying for supplies and other necessities.
Mary Davis, a teacher in Lee's Summit school district, said she pays "well over $500. That's probably on the lower end."
Parents near Kansas City, Missouri, started an-adopt-a-teacher fundraiser to help fill the gap.
"We don't want to lose them because they don't feel seen or supported," said Rachel Mitchell, creator of the Unofficial Lee's Summit R7 Adopt-A-Teacher.
A spokesperson for the Lee's Summit R-7 School District noted their teacher retention rate is 94%, and most teachers who leave either retire or are promoted to administrative roles. The district also notes that teacher salaries, thanks in part to recent $5.4 million budget allocation, are some of the highest in the Kansas City metro area.
In Ohio, one district lost 75 staffers, including all five school psychologists.
Teachers also say they face a polarizing political climate in places like Florida, a state where lawmakers decide how to teach about sexuality, gender and race issues. Florida was recently widely criticized for adopting a curriculum suggesting there were benefits to people who were enslaved.
"It just isn’t true. The truth is, enslaved people had their labor exploited," said Carol Cleaver, a Florida teacher at Ferry Pass Middle School.
In some areas of the country, classes are being cut. Districts are recruiting teachers from outside the U.S., and states are adjusting licensing rules.
Ultimately, teachers say the biggest shortfall may be on learning.
"There is nothing more important than ensuring that every single student has access to a high-quality public education. And that starts by having caring qualified educators across the board," said Scott DiMauro, the president of the Ohio Education Association.
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