Schools Are Facing Shortage of 300,000 Teachers and Staff, Major Union Says

National Education Association president Becky Pringle on Thursday warned that the U.S. teacher shortage has spiraled into a “five-alarm crisis,” with nearly 300,000 teaching and support positions left unfilled and policymakers taking desperate — and in some cases, questionable — measures to staff classrooms.

Pringle told ABC NewsTeachers unions warn that educators are under severe pressure due to chronic disinvestment in schools. They face low pay and overcrowded classrooms.

“We have a crisis in the number of students who are going into the teaching profession and the number of teachers who are leaving it,” Pringle told the outlet. “But, of course, as with everything else, the pandemic just made it worse.”

As a survey taken by the NEA earlier this year showed, 91% of educators said pandemic-related stress and burnout is a “serious problem” in the profession, and 55% reported they plan to leave their profession earlier than originally planned.

The problem of low pay is well-known in the profession, and teachers across the country say it is contributing to teacher departures. Teachers make an average salary of $64,000. However, educators in Mississippi, South Dakota and Florida earn much less.

As The Week reportedTeachers in Arizona receive an average salary of $52,000 per teacher each year. They also have one of America’s highest teacher-to student ratios.

“I do think the main root cause of the teacher shortage is pay,” Justin Wing of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association toldFox 10 Phoenix, adding that the state has a “very concerning” shortage of 2,200 teachers.

While advocates have for years called on state lawmakers to invest heavily in schools in order to recruit and retain highly qualified educators — with Arizona teachers staging a walkout in 2018 after legislators passed corporate tax cuts that would have left the state $100 million short — Republican leaders this year have turned to other methods of keeping classrooms sufficiently staffed.

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled the state’s official website recruiting veterans to help fill in the gaps in schools. Former armed service members do not need a bachelor’s degree to teach the state’s children — in keeping with a trend across the country, as at least 12 states have changed or eliminated their licensing requirements for educators in the last year, according toThe National Council on Teacher Quality.

According to the Florida Education Association (Federal Education Association), students in the state are approaching school year with 8,000 teacher positions, compared with 5,000 in 2021.

Andrew Spar, the union’s president, told NBC affiliate WPTVDeSantis’ other initiatives, including H.B., are directly responsible for the shortage. 1557, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” lawThis bans teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms until the third grade. DeSantis’s spokesperson said in March that anyone opposed to the bill was “probably a groomer” or wouldn’t “denounce the grooming of 4-8-year old children.”

H.B. 7, which bars teachers from instructing students about racism and “white privilege.”

“When the governor goes around the state vilifying teachers and staff in our schools — and, let’s face it, that’s what he’s doing — he’s sending a message to teachers and staff that you don’t matter,” Spar told WPTV. “They are then leaving the profession.”

Republicans in more than a dozen states have proposed laws controlling what teachers can talk about with their students, contributing to a teacher shortage that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called “contrived” earlier this month.

“The political situation in the United States, combined with legitimate aftereffects of Covid, has created this shortage,” Weingarten told The Washington Post.

Pringle said ABC News Teachers are more stressed than ever before the pandemic because they have to support families that are experiencing financial stress.

We encourage everyone to continue to push to make sure their school districts… use the American Rescue funds, to make sure that the schools have the resources that students need. And parents and families don’t have to supply as much as they have been.

We also know that teachers are spending more money than usual, taking money from their families to help fill the gaps created by the pandemic.

Pringle added that teachers need “professional respect” to stay in their profession.

“For them that is three things,” she said. “Professional authority to make teaching and learning decisions for their students. Professional rights to be able to do the work they love. And professional pay that reflects the importance of the work they do.”