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.