Lack of pay, new legislation drives teachers away, forces Florida schools to improvise

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs is ready to bring in district staff and “put them in the classrooms” to fill roughly 100 teacher vacancies at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

“The fact that we have a shortage is an indication that we’re not paying enough,” Jacobs told News 6. “The pay has to be there. We can’t pretend that education is different than every other field.”

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The former Orange County mayor admits the teacher shortage is forcing some class assignments that probably won’t be an exact match.

“In a perfect world, every science class should have a teacher certified in science, every English class should have a teacher certified in English,” she said. “To the best of our ability, we’re going to match that up.”

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar has been monitoring the teacher vacancies in every county.

Spar is concerned education quality will face a stress test this school year.

“If there’s thousands of vacancies out there, that’s hundreds of thousands of kids missing out on an education,” Spar said.

According to FEA data based on posted teacher openings, there are more than 8,000 vacancies statewide, including 1,500 vacancies in Central Florida.

Megan Betche, a special education teacher in Seminole County, said the biggest issue students will face is overcrowding in the classroom.

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“It’s frustrating, discouraging,” she said. “To say where the fallout is going to be? Everywhere.”

Judy Ngying, who has been a chemistry teacher for the last 24 years, said it’s “not a good time (to be) a teacher” because they’re “under attack.”

Ngying is one of dozens of teachers who cited controversy over Florida’s critical race theory and “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, along with the disparity in the $4,700 starting salaries versus the pay issued to veteran teachers, as reasons being a teacher has been difficult .

State Senator Linda Stewart of Orlando told News 6 the controversies surrounding new legislation, like critical race theory, seemed to counter the enhanced starting salaries offered and approved by state lawmakers this year.

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“It’s just not working,” Stewart said. “I don’t think the money is enticing them to come forward and get involved in that career because of the limitations placed on their teaching abilities.”

Teresa Lytle, who has been an art teacher for the last 25 years, said the teacher vacancies create added pressure on the instructors who are coming back this school year.

“We’re in the business to show kids they matter,” Lytle said. “If there are crowded classrooms, we can’t reach every student as well as we’d like to.”

Jacobs, who is running for re-election as county school board chair, is also fighting to get voters to support a continuation of a one-mill property tax.

If the tax is approved, it would continue to provide funding for teachers and support staff as well as academic programs, arts and student activities.

The issue is on the ballot for residents on Aug. 23.

For more information on the millage, click here.

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