Florida still needs 9,000 teachers before students return

Florida school districts are facing a staffing crisis, with thousands of teacher vacancies still open and less than two weeks left until school starts.

According to the Florida Education Association, districts across the state are still looking to hire a total of about 9,000 teachers with the first day of school scheduled for August 10 in most districts.

Hillsborough Schools is in one of the more dire situations. The district currently has about 1,400 openings, including roughly 700 teacher positions. Superintendent Addison Davis said there's a plan to fill as many holes as possible.

"Close to 300 district staff are certified to be able to go into the most critical schools and the greatest positions that we need," Davis said, referring to the plan to move out-of-classroom employees with teaching certifications back into classrooms. "So we are deploying them over the next couple of days to start for preplanning, so they can go in and create a seamless in a flawless opening for our students."

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Other districts are expected to take a similar approach. Education experts, however, don't expect that to come close to entirely solving the problem.

Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriet said he's concerned about how schools will function when school starts.

"Teachers are working wall to wall every day because of the coverage that they get," said Kriet. "They don't get to go to the bathroom even. The minute they get there to the minute they leave, they're working with kids. That's not really sustainable and that's not in our students' best interests."

Gov. Ron DeSantis approved an education budget that included $800 million for teacher pay raises this year.

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz has said one of his priorities is to recruit and retain teachers. The state has raised starting salaries for beginning and veteran teachers, while implementing several bonus incentive programs to try to keep educators from leaving the field.

"We are clearly facing a shortage, not only in Florida and nationally, but worldwide," Diaz said during a July 13 Florida Department of Education meeting.

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Several education leaders, however, believe this still isn't enough and state lawmakers need to increase district funding. Davis said, without that long-term financial guarantee in place, it'll be difficult to lure teachers to Florida.

"No one wants to talk about or have increased class sizes, but if that's what it takes to be able to put a high qualified, certified teacher in front of our students, that's what we'll have to be able to do," he said.

Hillsborough Schools is also asking voters to pass a one millage increase, which is on the August primary ballot. If passed, this would raise property taxes based on a home's assessed value. The additional revenue would allow the district to raise teacher salaries.