by James A. Bacon
The teacher shortage at Virginia’s public schools is getting worse. School divisions report 4,304 unfilled positions in the 2023-24 school year, according to a recent report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). Out of a teacher workforce of about 87,000, the creates an average statewide vacancy rate of 4.8%.
The shortages are not evenly distributed, however, as seen in the table below.
Vacancy rates in predominantly Black school districts are the highest. In Danville public schools, an astonishing two out of five positions are vacant. By contrast, at least ten districts report 0% vacancies.
The problem in a nutshell is that teachers are leaving faster than they can be replaced. The deficit between newly licensed teachers and those leaving the profession was running about 1,250 annually before the pandemic. Now the gap is more than 5,000 a year.
Why the surge? JLARC highlights the following motivations:
- Classroom environment: A more challenging student population, including behavior issues (56 percent indicated this was a very serious issue), student anxiety and mental health (43 percent), and higher workload because of unfilled vacancies (40 percent);
- Compensation: lower than desired salary given the demands of the profession (51 percent);
- Outside the classroom: lack of respect from parents and the public (47 percent).
The Youngkin administration has tried to expand the talent pipeline to recruit teachers from non-traditional pathways. While that strategy has increased the number of warm bodies in teacher seats, there is a widespread sentiment in school districts that non-traditional teachers are less prepared — although they can gain competency over time.