ORLANDO – It is a simple math problem that is not getting solved in a classroom. Florida has a shortage of teachers.
“I think it has gotten a lot worse,” said Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest association of professional employees.
Two years ago, Spar, who began his education career in Daytona Beach in 1994, went on the record warning districts about a projected statewide shortage of teachers for Florida’s schools.
In 2019, roughly 5,000 teaching positions were unfilled. Today, Spar believes that number has doubled.
“This year there could be as many as 10,000 classrooms without teachers to start this school year,” Spar told News 6 investigator Merris Badcock.
According to the Florida Department of Education, Florida employs roughly 200,000 teachers statewide. If Spar’s estimate is correct, that means districts could begin the year with roughly 5% of their teaching positions unfilled.
But is that the case here in Central Florida?
News 6 checked with all local school districts’ public information offices, which provided their individual vacancy numbers in the weeks leading up to school.
At last check, in the weeks leading up to school, Seminole, Sumter, Orange and Lake counties had to hire roughly 1% or less of their entire teaching staff.
Brevard, Volusia, Marion and Flagler needed to hire roughly 2% of their teaching staff.
Osceola County, mirroring Spar’s statewide prediction, still needed to hire more than five percent of their teaching staff.
“We do have some instructional vacancies, but we will be using other certified personnel to make sure we start the school year with teachers in every classroom,” Superintendent of Osceola County Public Schools Dr. Debra Pace said.
Pace’s solution to the problem, deploying substitute teachers, also mirrors what all districts said they would do to make sure there was a teacher in every classroom.
However, some people, like Spar, feel substitute teachers are not a long-term solution to a statewide teacher shortage.
Part of the reason districts are struggling to put teachers in every classroom is because, according to Spar, not enough people want to be teachers.
Just look to the University of South Florida which recently considered closing its College of Education after dwindling enrollment.
Even if people are becoming teachers, they are not staying teachers.
“I was always a big believer in philanthropy,” Serdwick St. Pierre said. “I feel like being a teacher, you are a philanthropist.”
St. Pierre taught in Orange County public schools for just one year, from 2020 to 2021, before deciding his future as a teacher was not going to give back to him as much as he was being asked to give.
“I just felt like it was not about education. It was about performance. It was not really about the students. It was about, ‘We need these numbers to look like this’,” said St. Pierre.