Public schools ‘unable to compete’ with private sector as thousands of K-12 staff quit during back-to-school season

By Zoe Han

The public school system cannot compete with private sector offerings, said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.

Janitors, cafeteria workers and teachers seem to have one thing in common: they’re fed up.

In September, 21,700 school workers left their jobs, according to the latest government data. This includes everyone from teachers to public school janitors. The number of K-12 school workers fell to 7,755,400 in September from 7,777,100 in August.

To put these numbers into context: In March 2020, before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the US economy, more than 8 million public school staff were in the workforce.

Across the country, there is a shortage of 300,000 teachers and other school workers, according to the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union.

Schools are struggling to fill positions in all fields, said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. “It’s every position in our schools,” he told MarketWatch.

“Janitors and maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals who are also known as teacher aides, front desk staff, school counselors, school social workers, and then, of course, our teacher teachers,” he added.

“So it runs the gamut, everyone is fighting to fill positions across the state and across the country, and those are all positions in our public schools,” Spar said.

Public education remains one of the least recovered sectors from the pandemic. Teachers reported high levels of stress during the early days of the pandemic, dealing with long working hours, reduced pay and technical difficulties with distance learning.

Labor shortages in other service sectors have also made school workers harder to retain, Spar said.

The private sector has increased benefits to attract more workers, many raising wages and offering more lucrative benefits.

“In some cases, the share of low-wage in-person job postings advertising key benefits more than doubled from August 2019 to August 2022,” according to analysis by Indeed Hiring Lab. These enhanced benefits relate to health insurance, paid vacations and pension plans, wrote AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

At the same time, public education has faced underfunding at the state level, leading to underpayment of all school staff, not just teachers, Spar said. A 2020 study found that schools were underfunded by $150 billion, a situation that affects up to 30 million K-12 students.

Example: Many support staff in Florida school districts earn “poverty wages,” according to the Florida Education Association. A “living wage” for a single person is $35,858 per year in Florida and $70,504 for a single parent with one child, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator.

Spar said the public school system was “simply not able to compete” with the private sector.

Vacancies in K-12 schools hovered at 10,771 for Florida in August 2022. That included 6,006 teachers and 4,765 support staff, according to calculations by the Florida Education Association. Weeks into the school year, some positions were filled, but the state still faces more than 5,000 vacancies for teachers and support staff each, Spar said.

Last month, Chalkbeat, a nonprofit dedicated to covering developments in education, spoke with 80 teachers who have left their profession. Among the reasons given for their departure: the lack of respect and support, the need for a higher salary and greater job flexibility.

Ingrid Fournier, a former teacher from Branch, Michigan, who ended her 25-year teaching career in 2022, told Chalkbeat: “Class sizes are going up, salaries and benefits are down, support to teachers and administrators has dropped significantly. and the surrogate programs have really taken their toll because the sense of community has diminished as a result.”

Salaries vary for school workers. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn an average of $61,350 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compares to $29,760 per year for school janitors and building cleaners, and $27,170 for lunchroom and cafeteria workers.

It is even difficult for some teachers to afford to live in the area where they work. The Milpitas Unified School District School Board in California approved a workforce housing resolution Aug. 23 that detailed how moderate-income people working for the district were struggling to find housing in rent near their work, according to KRON-TV in San Francisco and a copy of the resolution provided to MarketWatch.

The district told parents via a school communication app that it had lost seven teachers in the last school year due to cost-of-living issues and asked them to rent excess space, according to KNTV, a subsidiary. from NBC in the Bay Area.

These stories provide context for the vacancy rate in public education. There were 292,000 openings in state and local government public education, which contains all public education from K-12 and above, a record high for August, according to separate data provided by the American Federation of teachers, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A North Carolina school district superintendent told MarketWatch in August that no candidates had applied for all six openings in his district, and that was two weeks before the start of the school year.

A nationwide shortage of school bus drivers is also affecting students’ ability to get to school on time: 88% of school transportation professionals and education officials surveyed said the shortage of school bus drivers buses has limited their transportation operations, according to a recent survey by HopSkipDrive, a school transportation company.

According to the survey, some 94% of respondents said they had staffing shortages, from teachers to librarians and administrators. “What keeps me awake at night is how to keep schools open and running during the pandemic and amidst staffing shortages,” said John French, a survey superintendent.

The staff shortage affects all students, but some may be more vulnerable to the impacts. Not having enough teaching assistants, for example, could mean there aren’t enough people to help students with special needs, Spar said.

“The teachers and staff who work in our public schools care about children and want to do good with them. But so often they face so many obstacles that they end up giving up and walking away,” said he declared.

(Emma Ockerman contributed to this story.)

Also see:

‘It’s $2,600 more this year’: Breastfeeding moms tell MarketWatch they’re struggling to meet the weekly grocery bill

‘I want them to go to sleep with a full stomach’: Mom tells MarketWatch how inflation upset her family’s mealtimes

‘Best I can do is email you’: When this Native American family’s high-speed data ran out, teaching their children remotely came first

-Zoe Han


(END) Dow Jones Newswire

10-20-22 1628ET

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