WESH 2 Investigates digs into why Central Florida is struggling to hire and retain teachers

Wesh 2 News | By Sheldon Dutes | April 5, 2023

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Like many educators, Silvia Torres’ love of teaching started while she was still a student.

“When I was in second grade, I used to [pretend] teach my parents at home. After that, I started tutoring kids while I was still in school,” Torres said.

Torres’ passion to learn and help others inspired her to work as an elementary school educator in Volusia County Schools for 10 years.

“It’s just the satisfaction that you’re being part of the future,” Torres told WESH 2 Investigates’ Sheldon Dutes.

But Torres left the district in February for a job outside of K-12 education for a variety of reasons.

“The workload has increased. Kids’ behaviors have changed,” she said. “Work-life balance. And not getting as much as we wanted income-wise.”

Torres isn’t alone.

Thousands of teachers across the country are leaving the profession, or not even entering it.

According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average American public school had two vacant teacher positions in the fall, which adds up nationwide.

WESH 2 Investigates’ asked the Florida Department of Education for teacher vacancies for August and January to compare.

WESH 2 made this inquiry on Jan. 4, 2023, and followed up repeatedly. Five weeks later, on Feb. 10, the state responded with data for the beginning of the school year and said there was about one opening per school on average across Florida.

But the DOE said the department “doesn’t have responsive records for teacher vacancies in January.”

The Florida Education Association tracks advertised teacher vacancies statewide and counted nearly 5,294 vacancies for January 2023. In August 2022, the union counted 6,006 teacher vacancies.

Based on that count, the number of mid-year vacancies is down from the start of the school year, but the union’s data shows the total number of advertised mid-year teacher vacancies has jumped 255% over the past five years.

When it comes to our local districts, it’s a similar pattern. While the number of mid-year teacher vacancies for most of our local school districts has increased over the past few years, those mid-year numbers are still smaller compared to the beginning of the school year.

Lake County increased 152% between Jan 2018 to Jan 2023. Brevard County increased 80% during that same time. Volusia’s mid-year vacancies increased 73% between January 2021 and January 2023.

Orange County didn’t have January data because a spokesperson told WESH 2 Investigates they’re “not required information to be tracked and sent to the Florida Department of Education.”

Seminole and Osceola counties are the only local school districts that didn’t respond to our inquiries or follow-up requests.

Union representatives like Volusia United’s president Elizabeth Albert said schools have had to get creative to accommodate teacher vacancies.

“Because of the teacher shortage and staff shortage that we have in Volusia County, the kids have to go somewhere,” Albert said. “So we’re packing more students in our classrooms and the teachers are trying to teach with these unreasonable timelines and they’re struggling. And behavior is a big problem.”

Albert said salary is also a factor contributing to the vacancies.

New teacher salaries rank among the highest in the country, according to the FLDOE, but these educators make as much or just a little less than teachers who have been on the job longer.

“You receive an experience penalty as far as it relates to your salary. So, that’s a bit contingency that we’re dealing with,” Albert said.

As Torres settles into her new role outside of Volusia County Schools, it’s a bittersweet transition.

“It’s mostly the kids that I was worried about. Because that’s why we’re there for,” she said. “And I have a 5-year-old and it makes me wonder, what’s going to happen to her future.”

School districts across Central Florida host job fairs throughout the school year to fill positions.

In Volusia County, the School Board recently approved a plan to allow the district to hire qualified teachers from other countries to help fill openings. However, time will tell how this will help upcoming school years.

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