ORLANDO, Fla. — Leaders of Florida’s main education lobbying agency say the latest results of an annual survey they perform should renew concerns about Florida’s teacher and support staff vacancy rates, but state officials are calling the claims misleading.
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On Thursday, Florida Education Association officials said a survey of all 67 school district websites showed vacancies were up 21% year-over-year. The totals included 5,294 teaching vacancies and 4,631 support staff positions.
In a follow-up interview, FEA President Andrew Spar said Orange County accounted for 300 of the openings, Osceola County has 236 and Brevard has 155.
“That means kids who don’t have fully trained professional teachers in the classroom right now teaching them in every district in the state of Florida,” Spar said. “I think they have about 20 vacancies in Flagler County. And that’s a county that typically doesn’t have very many vacancies in the Central Florida area.”
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Spar said some of the main drivers of this trend were a lack of respect for teachers and public education as well as salary compression. While Florida has taken strides to raise starting salaries for teachers to $47,000 per year, Spar said the average teacher makes $52,000. Veteran teachers, he said, were being forced to retire and find a higher-paying career.
Spar called for the state to use some of its budget surpluses to make a major investment in public education, which he said would take care of the gap.
“A $2.5 billion investment each year for the next seven to eight years would go a long way to moving Florida from the bottom of the barrel in funding for public schools to one of the leaders in the nation,” he said.
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However, state education officials said Spar was inflating his numbers by using inaccurate ways of counting vacancies. As of September 1, the state had 4,442 teaching vacancies, officials reported, approximately 2.4% of positions or a little more than one per school, while some other states had rates as high as three per school.
A Department of Education staff member said FEA looked at job postings at a time when districts begin to list positions for the fall. Additionally, they said some vacancies were left open online to create a “pool” of potential candidates.
“School districts frequently advertise positions for a variety of reasons,” Department of Education spokesman Alex Lanfranconi said. “Rather than spending time and resources perusing the websites of school districts looking for a mythical teacher shortage that does not exist, the union should be supporting our continued efforts to recruit and retain high-quality educators.”
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A 2022 analysis of vacancy rates by Brown University researchers found while states in the southeast, chiefly Florida, had the highest number of raw vacancies, Florida had a much lower rate when analyzed per pupil.
The researchers said schools with chronic teacher shortages underperformed on tests compared to their peers.
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FEA officials said each district was handling its shortfall differently. Spar said he didn’t see Florida’s issues as insurmountable, but he wanted more dramatic action to reverse a longstanding trend of declining interest in teaching.
“This is about the future of our state. This is about the future of our country. This is about the future of our communities,” he said. “We need to invest in our schools.”
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