K-12 Education lost 12,000 jobs in September, 309,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic

There are 567,000 fewer educators in US public schools than before the pandemic, with the ratio of people hired to education jobs at an all-time low this school year, and it’s worse in poorer school districts.

For every vacancy, there are 0.57 hires, according to the National Education Association, the largest U.S. union representing nearly 3 million educators.

The shortage of teachers does not affect all schools in the same way. Students in the poorest school districts are the hardest hit because schools are funded by property taxes. Several teachers told TIME that they leave their school district for other districts that pay more and offer more resources. At least one survey found that schools in low-income areas are more likely to have vacancies.

Massive staffing shortages are increasingly draining educators, with 55% of respondents in a recent survey saying they are ready to leave the profession sooner than expected.

“This is a five-alarm crisis,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a press release.

The pandemic has resulted in some of the largest declines in academic achievement recorded in 50 years and widened the achievement gap between black and white students, Time reported. Solutions include teaching in small groups and one-on-one tutoring, two things that are nearly impossible when schools don’t have enough educators.

“You talk about gaps in learning. We are still suffering from covid,” said Shaye Brown, a special education teacher who quit her job to take a better paying job at a nearby school. “I feel like now, with vacancies, we can never catch up.”

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According to a January Department of Education survey, schools with more black students and those in very poor neighborhoods report a higher percentage of teaching vacancies than schools serving mostly white students and schools in areas richer. But that was also happening before the pandemic.

The problem of teacher shortages varies widely from state to state, according to a working paper released in August by the Brown University Annenberg Institute. Mississippi, for example, has about 68 vacancies per 10,000 students. New Jersey, home to some of the wealthiest communities, had one vacancy for 10,000 students for the 2021-2022 school year.

A new state law allows New Jersey school districts to temporarily hire retired teachers to fill vacant classroom positions and it’s having a big impact in Newark, NJ.com reported. Retirees are receiving $92,000 for the 2022-23 school year while continuing to receive their pensions, district officials said.

The school district also increased starting salaries for permanent teachers from $55,469 to $62,000, citing staffing shortages.

“Teachers are currently in a very good position to negotiate salaries,” said Yolanda Méndez, assistant superintendent of Newark.

As schools struggle to find educators, some no longer require college degrees to fill full-time teaching positions. Public officials openly challenge the idea that an education degree should be a prerequisite for entering the classroom and hope to overturn longstanding licensing rules, The Washington Post reported.

Many states are increasingly relying on substitutes, who are generally not required to have college degrees, to fill full-time teaching positions.

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