The Preventable Crisis: Lack of Funding Underpins K-12 Staffing Shortages
August 19, 2022
August 19, 2022
Every child in Virginia should be able to count on a school bus picking them up on time, administrative staff to greet them in the morning, a hot meal at lunch, and a qualified teacher in every class. Yet, due to years of underfunding coupled with increased stress and demands over the pandemic, our school staffing shortages have reached a fever pitch – around 10,500 job postings statewide across all school divisions as of August 11th. This means not every student will be guaranteed the basics so many of us were afforded in school. Virginia lawmakers have long understood the troubling trends for staffing shortages, and this crisis ultimately is a product of choices they made to under-resource our schools. More than ever, we need state lawmakers to acknowledge the scale of the problem before them, double down on providing competitive compensation, begin adequately staffing schools to improve working conditions, and pass policies and change their rhetoric to show respect for educators.
While we won’t get official state vacancy numbers from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) until next year, our next best option to get a sense of statewide shortages is from job posting data on school division websites. VEA pulled the jobs posted across all 132 school division websites over August 10 and 11, and found exactly 10,499 positions, many of which are instructional. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, VDOE reported that on August 15th, 2021, Virginia school divisions had 4,977 instructional vacancies. This comparison comports with what is being reported across the state and nationally by school leaders: that they anticipate significant staffing shortages at the start of the upcoming school year.
Teacher shortages have been found to have negative impacts on student achievement and lead to overall staff instability at schools. Schools with shortages often will put substitutes, novice, and unqualified teachers in classrooms, and studies suggest this is more likely to happen in schools with a greater share of students of color and who live in households experiencing poverty. VEA analysis of the most recent state vacancy data found divisions with the highest share of Black students have an average teacher vacancy rate more than four times that of divisions with the lowest share (5.5% v.s. 1.3%). Similarly, divisions with the highest student poverty rates had nearly twice the teacher vacancy rate compared to divisions with the lowest poverty rates (5.3% v.s. 2.7%). The findings are particularly worrying considering the fact that Black and low-income students already faced significant barriers to learning in Virginia before the pandemic, and state testing data indicates these groups lost significant ground over the past two years.
Many school divisions have been contingency planning for staffing shortages, preparing to combine students into larger classes or settings like gymnasiums where adults can safely monitor them. Other divisions are reporting hiring more individuals for teaching positions that do not meet full qualifications. All these methods of triage end up depriving students of the services and instruction they desperately need to recover from the lost learning time over the past two years. Elected officials need to boldly intervene at this moment to safeguard public schools and set us on a different trajectory.
State lawmakers should begin to address our worsening staffing crisis in the upcoming state budget and through other actions, including:
Our teacher and staff shortage in Virginia didn’t randomly happen overnight, it’s been years in the making. Choices to underfund schools by state lawmakers have created crisis-level conditions for many schools and will take years to correct. Virginia lawmakers must act boldly to invest in K-12 over the coming year to reverse the troubling trend of more and more educators leaving, or never entering, the profession.