Call it politics in education or simply making the math work for your political agenda. Either way, when it comes to the number of vacant teaching positions in Florida, the numbers don’t look good for students.
In a news release issued by the Florida Department of Education on Tuesday morning, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz touted a near 10% decrease in teacher vacancy slots at the beginning of the new school year versus one year ago.
According to the state, Florida had 4,776 open teaching positions by the time schools opened around the state this year. That’s an 8% decrease in the number of teacher vacancies reported at the same time last school year, according to the FDOE.
Diaz described the drop as a reflection of several new statewide initiatives introduced under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“It has been a top priority of the governor, the Florida Legislature and the Department of Education to recruit high-quality teachers to fill our classrooms,” he said. “It is clear from the nearly 10% decline in teacher vacancies reported today that their hard work has paid off.”
But Florida's Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, said those numbers aren't accurate. Last week, the FEA announced nearly 7,000 teaching positions remained vacant at the beginning of the school year.
In response to the FDOE's Tuesday announcement, Spar said, “Now is not the time to sugarcoat or downplay the teacher and staff shortage. It’s bad, and kids are losing out. The Florida Department of Education can do its best to minimize the staffing crisis facing Florida’s public schools, but the truth is in the numbers. We stand by FEA’s Aug. 7 count of vacancies listed on school districts’ websites, just as we stand by the counts we have conducted over the past several years. Due to low pay and a divisive political climate of fear and intimidation, the teacher and staff shortage has gone from bad to worse under the DeSantis administration.”
While some districts are dealing with higher vacancies this year than last year, other districts are starting to see some success.
In Pasco County, the district went from having 365 open teaching slots at the beginning of last school year to 165 at the beginning of this year.
District spokesperson Melanie Waxler points to local efforts as key to changing the tide.
“It's a pretty significant drop, and we're very proud of it,” Waxler said. “It wasn't an easy task. It required multiple recruitment events, lots of initiatives that we pushed out as a district as well as anything we could do just to encourage the community to get more involved in the school district.”
According to an FDOE spokesperson, the state compiled its teacher vacancy numbers by surveying districts on the first day of school.
The teacher's union counts the number of open positions advertised in each district as its basis for data.
Both admit the numbers represent a snapshot in time and can change daily.