Yes, Florida has a teacher shortage. But so does America, and it ain’t Ron DeSantis’s fault.

by | Aug 13, 2023



Over the last week or so, our state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association (FEA), and its president, Andrew Spar, have sounded alarm bells at media outlets from Pensacola to Miami about the “largest teacher shortage in state history,” selling their talking points to everyone who’ll listen.  And in the process, FEA and Spar are doing all they can to lay the crisis at the feet of one person: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

But even just a few seconds of internet research reveals a completely different story: the supposed teacher shortage is nationwide, impacting nearly every single state in the nation, and the alleged “crisis” has nothing whatsoever to do with Ron DeSantis, the Parental Rights in Education law, or just about anything else that Andrew Spar or his union claims. Notably, this teacher shortage is actually part of a larger overall labor shortage, and the education sector is actually doing better than most of the rest of the private sector.

FEA’s main talking point in support of their attack is a rough count of about 6,920 teaching job listings posted across Florida, a number that the union’s public relations hacks cooked up by adding educator job listings from various school districts in the state. Is the number accurate? Eh. Are the website listings even up-to-date? Who knows? The FEA sure doesn’t. And they don’t care, either. A big number is all they’re after, because it allows them to claim that Florida has “one of the worst teacher shortages in the nation,” while blaming the governor’s education policies as the root cause.

Here’s proof from a choice excerpt from the official FEA press release this week:

Unfortunately, thousands of students will show up to their first day of school in Florida this year to find they don’t have a permanent teacher. There are currently nearly 7,000 teaching vacancies statewide, according to a new count of positions advertised on district websites. Advertised vacancies for school support staff stand at over 5,000, bringing the combined total to nearly 12,000 unfilled positions. The sad reality is that Gov. DeSantis and his legislative allies’ anti-education agenda is harming Florida’s children.

Spar and the FEA don’t care how weak their case is, because they know there’s no shortage of similar-minded ideologues who are all-too-happy to take the FEA’s “facts” at face value. And so with the school year officially getting underway, several Florida and national media outlets found the FEA’s fear-mongering and political blame game to be a perfect hook upon which to hang a sensational headline or two. After all, why bother with facts when political rhetoric will get more clicks?  Many outlets not only picked up the story, they plastered Spar’s union-manufactured headlines across their home pages and led with them on the local television news stations. Here’s Fox’s WTVT-13 in Tampa:

Florida teacher shortage one of the worst in the country as new school year starts

And here’s Gainesville’s WCJB-20, an ABC affiliate, trying to go one better:

‘Kids aren’t getting the education they deserve’: Florida schools struggle to hire enough teachers

Without a doubt, the FEA, a liberal political machine to its very core, had to be pleased with those results and many similar stories.

Some hard data from around the country

A simple comparison with data from other states easily undercuts the FEA narrative. But first, let’s get a little perspective. Right now in America, the overall labor market – not just education – is facing a job vacancy rate of 5.8 percent. Help Wanted signs are everywhere, including at schools around the country. So how does the so-called “teacher shortage” stack up against the rest of the nation? Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reveals that 4 percent of all public school teaching positions across the country are vacant. 

That figure is important. For starters, your opinion might vary, but we can acknowledge there’s a difference between a Mcdonald’s that doesn’t have enough workers to keep the ice cream machine functioning, versus having someone capable of teaching algebra to middle school students, so the vacancy rate that constitutes a “crisis” for one industry may be different than the crisis vacancy rate for another.

Let’s go ahead and stipulate that 4 percent is a “crisis level” for the nation when it comes to teachers. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. How does Florida compare with that national average? Using the FEA’s own data, we can take their claimed 6,920 teacher openings and divide them by Florida’s 163,558 public school teachers to arrive at a figure of…drum roll please…4.2 percent. It turns out that Florida is not “among the worst states in the nation” at all for teacher vacancies, but almost exactly average.

Now let’s take a swing around the country. In Arizona, for example, over 9,600 teaching positions were open at the start of the 2022-23 school year. That’s far more openings a year ago than Florida purportedly has today. So much for being the worst in the nation. On a per capita basis, we’re not even close.

Meanwhile, according to the Sacramento Bee, the liberal utopia of California is struggling with about 20,000 vacant teaching positions. Compare that with the 307,400 public school teachers they employ, and California has a 6.5 percent vacancy rate – a figure that DeSantis will be sure to throw in the face of California Governor Gavin Newsom should the latter attempt to blast DeSantis with FEA-approved rhetoric during their upcoming national TV debate.

What about other states?  Ohio’s Department of Education says that the Buckeye State has a teacher shortage, and the list goes on, and on and on.

There are countless ways an objective person can slice the available data, but no matter how we do it, the one conclusion that cannot be supported is the suggestion that Governor Ron DeSantis and his legislative allies are to blame for Florida’s supposed “teacher shortage.”

The reality: teacher shortages are a local problem

It turns out those national averages, like an FEA press release, can be a bit misleading. Buried within the NCES’s national data, and mirrored in the FEA’s state data, we find that teacher shortages are not a true, state-level issue. The shortages are a highly localized problem that must be examined on a district-by-district basis. This is true both nationally, and right here in Florida.

The fact of the matter is that our four percent national (and Florida) teacher vacancy rate takes all of the openings and spreads them evenly across every school district, when in reality, many school districts are doing just fine, thank you very much.

To prove our point, we’ll just take a look at the FEA’s actual data for a few specific Florida school districts:

By far, the Florida school district with the largest number of teacher vacancies is Palm Beach, with 811 openings this year compared with fewer than 400 job openings last year.  Palm Beach County has 12,780 teaching positions, which means those 811 job openings constitute a 6.2 percent vacancy rate. That makes The School District of Palm Beach County sound a bit more like California than Florida, a comparison that is more accurate than we have time for here.

What about other big districts? Broward County had 622 openings, according to the FEA, versus 414 last year. Miami Dade? 389 openings, more than 100 more teacher vacancies compared to last year. St. Johns County posted 380 openings versus just 41 last year. These are all school districts that are definitely headed in the wrong direction, with more openings this year than last.

But let’s not stop there, or we’ll miss the big picture.

Hillsborough County currently shows 625 teacher vacancies. Definitely a lot, but they had way more – 740 openings – last year. At the same time, Orange County posted 196 teacher vacancies this year, versus 355 last year. Duval County also improved dramatically, with just 105 vacancies versus 298 last year. In short, several of Florida’s largest school districts made big dents in their teacher vacancy problem, despite the FEA’s claims about Ron DeSantis and his policies making things worse.

The net result? Florida has just over 900 more vacancies this year compared with last year, and just a handful of bigger districts actually accounted for the net gain in posted job openings. Palm Beach County alone accounted for 45 percent of the state’s change in total number of vacancies this year.

So maybe we have a Palm Beach County problem? Are Palm Beach County teachers (or their administrators) somehow more vulnerable or sensitive to DeSantis’s education policies compared with Orange, Hillsborough or Duval Counties? Or, is each local district facing its own independent challenges, with cultural nuances, different administrative systems, radically different talent pools, and significant socioeconomic differences, all combining to contribute to the wide variance between teacher vacancies in each district?

Something tells me, nope. This made-up “crisis” is all definitely Ron DeSantis’s fault.

34 Comments

  1. MH/Duuuval

    “St. Johns County posted 380 openings versus just 41 last year. These are all school districts that are definitely headed in the wrong direction .. .”

    St. Johns is one of the most well-off counties in the state and one that consistently supports right-wingers. How does your “model” account for this?

    Oh, wait — the answer is vouchers. Of course …

    • Brian Burgess

      Yes, everything must be viewed through the prism of politics…

      Tell me, what do you make of the 25 or so counties with fewer teacher vacancies this year than last, and that most of them are in “red” counties? Shall we chalk that up to politics, too? Or is the teacher shortage maybe a bit more nuanced than you’ve been conditioned to believe?

      • MH/Duuuval

        I am all for nuanced journalism, but when you write an opinion piece that is throughly politicized, folk gonna respond.

        Waiting for you to take on the recent revelations about Richard Corcoran and the Jefferson County public school grift.

        • Brian Burgess

          Send me the info, I’ll look at it. I’ve criticized Richard Corcoran many times in the past.

    • Rusty22

      What a useless statistical analysis. I hope no one from Scholaroo, or you, are teaching FL children. Maybe, just maybe, you should consider Florida has one of the highest populations over 55 that are highly unlikely to have school age children. That fact, along with the number of children who are home schooled and who attend charter schools make this analysis worthless and quite embarrassing to the authors. How about a comparison of the number of children attending public schools to the number of teachers? Not rocket science stuff!

  2. Anita Sandler

    Your bias is clearly evident in this piece. By your use of emotionally loaded language, you don’t even make an attempt to be neutral.
    Examples: “the union’s public relations hacks cooked up”,
    And they don’t care, either. A big number is all they’re after,
    FEA’s fear-mongering and political blame game
    the FEA, a liberal political machine to its very core,
    the so-called ‘teacher shortage’,
    attempt to blast DeSantis”

    In addition, your straw man argument falls short. Without getting into the details, the “crisis” between McDonalds and the nationwide teaching profession shortage cannot be equated! Your attempt to do so is an insult!

    In your own words, all Florida school districts “ are definitely headed in the wrong direction, with more openings this year than last”. Why?
    Perhaps you ought to objectively examine (focus groups, surveys, etc) and report the reasons for the shortage.
    Or, maybe I just don’t get it! Maybe you’re not interested in providing unbiased journalism, after all!

    Anita Sandler
    1987 Dade County Teacher of the Year

    • Rusty22

      We get you also aren’t objective. You didn’t address the authors point of the article. Are statistics being purpose misrepresented to advance a narrative?
      Granted, the McDonald’s comparison was a bit off. However, the author provided ample evidence to support their case.

      • Brian Burgess

        Thanks for defending me, but go back and read the McDonalds analogy again. I use it to acknowledge that a teacher shortage of 4% might be more serious than a McDonalds McFlurry Machine Operator shortage of 5.9%.

        But the point is that we don’t know what percentage level constitutes a true “crisis” for teacher vacancies.

        • Rusty22

          Using a mostly unskilled labor business such as McDonald’s, which is often viewed as first jobs for young people, sets a bad stage for most people. There are plenty of skilled labor jobs, and others that require educational degrees, that could have been used as the basis of comparison, that may have been less offensive to the FEA constitutes.

          • Brian Burgess

            There’s no reason for teachers to be offended whatsoever since the very point of me mentioning McDonalds was to make the exact point you’re bringing up: that the two jobs DON’T compare. Go back and read it in context. I very clearly said there’s a big difference between the two jobs, and one “crisis” isn’t the same as the other.

        • Anita

          Any percentage level is too much. The result is having to hire unqualified personnel to fill the void. When we do that, we do a real disservice to the students.

          • Brian Burgess

            Cry me a river. Look outside of schools and maybe you’ll see the real problem. There are worker shortages everywhere, and industries are competing against the schools, offering higher wages to teachers, and teachers are taking those jobs.

            This isn’t some case where teachers are just “so frustrated” with GOP policies that they’re sitting out, saddened by the state of affairs, wanting so badly to help “the children,” but they just can’t because of the GOP. It’s a nice fantasy, one that the FEA would love for people to believe. But it’s not supported by objective data.

            So I’m not sure if you buy into the FEA’s line of garbage because you’re gullible, or you’re just another FEA hack willing to carry their water for them, no matter how dishonest. Either choice isn’t good. Let’s start with honesty and maybe we can fix the problem.

    • Brian Burgess

      Hint: It’s an opinion piece. But an opinion that’s backed up by actual data.

      Further, I didn’t say “All Florida school districts are headed in the wrong direction” with respect to hiring. I said, the school districts I mentioned clearly were. There were like five of them. A third of all school districts actually have fewer openings this year than last. Many more have hardly any difference at all.

      Yes, I’m biased. Very much so, but I’m also fact-driven and the data completely undercuts the argument that Florida has the worst teacher shortage in the nation. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a general LABOR shortage, and teaching, as I mentioned, is actually doing BETTER than other industries.

      Congrats on being the 1987 Teacher of the Year, but sadly it sounds like you’ve lost a step in the critical thinking department.

      • Anita

        I don’t criticize your use of data (although I must admit that I haven’t confirmed the authenticity). I criticize your use of language to make your point – draw your conclusion about whether the teacher shortage constitutes a crisis. A crisis is the absence of certified teachers in the classroom robbing our students of the education that they deserve. Rather than denigrating the FEA, you would do a real service to your readers by trying to find out, and reporting, the reasons for the shortage.

        • Brian Burgess

          Seems like the FEA’s job. But they’re too busy trying to score political points.

          • Anita

            Political points? Calling the kettle black.

          • Brian Burgess

            ? I cover political news from a center-right perspective and don’t hide that fact.

            I stand by the point of the story, which is that the FEA is just living up to its liberal nature by trying to score political points rather than addressing the root cause of the problem. The data does not support the suggestion that any alleged teacher shortage is the fault of specific policies. It’s just not true that teachers are leaving their jobs in droves because of GOP policies, when we can easily look around the country and see other states, including New York and California, both liberal teacher safe-havens, also have teacher shortages – and at higher rates than Florida.

            I have no doubt that many liberal teachers don’t like DeSantis or his policies, and that even some of them are leaving the profession or Florida as a result. But so what? That’s not the root cause of an overall shortage – we’re facing an overall labor shortage at an even higher rate – so guess what? Other industries are hurting for talent, and offering more money. That’s really the bottom line.

            Spare me all your political claptrap. It doesn’t fly here, because it’s just false rhetoric, which is typical from the FEA.

  3. Laura

    I personally know many teachers who have dedicated their lives to teaching in Florida who have switched careers because of DeSantis’ policies in this state. The author doesn’t even try to conceal his bias or lack of personal knowledge. Go speak to the teachers, even in the red counties such as Lee, who chose to resign and not teach this year. DeSantis has changed the teaching requirements to include retired law enforcement, military, and others without the proper teaching credentials and has been recruiting from other countries. Florida is still short thousands of teachers.

    • Rusty22

      I don’t believe for a minute anyone has switched careers solely because they can’t teach crt in school and porn to minors. If that is true, they should have been fired before quitting….

      • MH/Duuuval

        The Bluest Eye or Maus are porno?

        The state guidelines for teaching African American history include teaching the Battle of Olustee, where white Southerners went onto the battlefield afterwards and executed wounded Black soldiers. Is this CRT? Or, how about Florida having the highest per capita rate of lynching of Blacks?

    • Sam Wright

      Every employer has the right to set guidelines and conditions of employment. If following guielines of what you can teach triggers you so badly that you quit your job, it clearly is time for you to go and leave the work to the adults.

      • MH/Duuuval

        Let us know when the adults show up in GOP circles because what we have now are craven opportunists.

    • Ancientcane

      Laura, maybe its a good thing some of the “teachers” that don’t like our state government, do move along.

      • MH/Duuuval

        Ron can import disgruntled law enforcement types to fill vacancies.

    • Anita

      Laura, you make an excellent point. I, too, know many teachers who have retired early or have decided to leave the state and seek employment elsewhere. I’m sure there are many reasons, but we need to wake up and remedy the situation before it’s too late.

      • Brian Burgess

        Anecdotal at best. False at worst. Either way, not indicative of reality. There are very few teachers so frustrated with the state’s policies that they are leaving to teach in other states. I’m sure there are some. And to them I say, good riddance, we don’t want people teaching our kids who wear their politics on their sleeves. They need to check their ideologies at the door when they walk into public school to teach.

        • Anita

          Anecdotal, yes, but you make claims about the reason teachers are leaving the state. Again, your opinion. Where is your evidence that “there are very few teachers ….”?

  4. MH/Duuuval

    Are The Bluest Eye and Maus porno? Florida had the highest per capita rate of lynching — is this CRT?

    • Rusty22

      It’s called “age appropriate”.

      • MH/Duuuval

        Olustee is in the Florida DOE standards, by name. Will this episode be taught accurately in high school?

  5. Andy Ralston

    Orange County Teacher Assoc. leader had the usual, stereotypical laments in local rag…”Yeah, Legislature has been good to us, but they should do more!” I went on the website. Average Orange County teaching salary $54,000 + $21,000 in bennies. Good/great/exceptional teachers will always be underpaid but $75,000 for 180+- days of work is pretty decent. Nobody is going to get rich, but….. (both of my kids attended public schools 1-12 and I’ve voted for extra sales tax to help education the 2X it’s been on ballot)

  6. It's Complicated

    My wife graduated with a Masters Degree in classroom education in 1990, and was subject to a ‘bidding war’ to employ her due to teacher shortages. Even had some of her student loans forgiven for taking a “critical shortage area” job. This is not a new problem.

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