Teacher Shortage and No End in Sight

by Matt Hurt

Twenty years ago in Southwest Virginia, PreK-6-endorsed teachers would apply at a rate of 5 to 10 applicants for each posted position. Fully endorsed teachers would sometimes spend years in hourly teachers’ aides positions waiting for their turn to get their own classroom and a full-time teaching contract. Then, a little more than ten years ago, the supply began to dry up. Now the flood of teachers produced by our colleges has dwindled to a trickle. As it turns out, all of this occurred prior to the current political unpleasantness.

During the pandemic, teachers really began to burn out. JMU soon is expected to publish a paper which describes this phenomenon. My understanding is that researchers found that during COIVD teachers felt like they were not able to help their students be successful. They got into the field not to make millions of dollars annually, but to help kids. The pandemic and school closures made this much more difficult. Now that so many kids are so far behind, many teachers find it difficult to believe they’ll ever be able to help them get caught up.

This year, I have listened to a disturbing number of administrators talk about teachers leaving in the middle of the year. This certainly happened prior to this year, but it was a very uncommon event. Now, it is all too common.

The amazing thing is that this is even happening in places that have not been subjected to all of the political unpleasantness. It is possible that the pandemic jolted teachers into reconsidering their priorities. When they compared their priorities to the relatively little money they bring home each month (relative to the stresses and strains associated with the job), they decided there must be a better way.

While salary is not the major reason individuals go into the teaching field, it certainly can serve as an incentive. In Virginia, that incentive is not as lucrative as it is in many states, either in overall dollar amounts or in relative terms. Virginia ranks approximately 8th in average household income, and 32nd in average teacher salaries. According to this metric, Virginia offers the worst pay relative to average income in the country. New York and Virginia are the major outliers in this comparison. New York’s average household income was $199 more per year than Virginia, yet the average New York teacher brings home $32,622 dollars more per year than the average colleague in Virginia.

At a time when the inflation rate is at 8.5% and continues to rise with no end in sight, our legislators are arguing about whether to provide teachers with a 4% or a 5% raise. At today’s inflation rate, they’re really arguing whether to give them a 3.5% or a 4.5% pay cut in real terms.

While teachers do not primarily go into the field for the money, we must improve teacher salaries. We need to entice more candidates into the field, and to incentivize more teachers to remain in the field. If we don’t, we will be forced to significantly lower our teacher licensure standards to staff our classrooms, stack 40 students in each class, or force many kids into online instruction. This problem has been brewing for years, and it seems that Covid has caused it to boil over.

Matt Hurt is director of the Comprehensive Instructional Program based in Wise.

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46 responses to “Teacher Shortage and No End in Sight”

  1. Teacher morale in Virginia is really low. There are many reasons for this, and low pay is one. Low pay also happens to be the one thing that legislators can readily fix.

    We cannot think that raising pay will be sufficient by itself to address the problem. As education becomes increasingly bureaucratized, teachers are swamped with more and more paperwork. That needs to be fixed.

    As disorder and defiance become more widespread, teachers become increasingly frustrated. That needs to be fixed.

    Meanwhile, policy makers heap insanely unrealistic expectations on teachers — teach kids what they need to learn in the current year and, by the way, help them make up the ground they lost last year. That needs to be fixed.

    In many high-poverty schools (not in SW Virginia, Matt), much of the “education” delivered is a sham. Teachers pretend to teach, and students pretend to learn… and get socially promoted. That needs to be fixed.

    Those fixes will be a long time coming. While Virginia is sloshing around with surplus revenue, increasing teacher pay is something we can do immediately.

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      The unrealistic expectations don’t let teachers keep the main thing, the main thing – teaching.

  2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Well said. Incentives are hard to find when salary is so low. If I were just getting out of college, I would want my student loan diminished, a place to live that I could afford without a roommate, and most importantly, support in helping me be successful in the classroom.

    If I were 45 and a veteran teacher, I would want politicians to keep their nose out of education. I once had a third grader tell me that he refused to take the SOL assessment because he didn’t want the government interfering with his business. Smart kid. Knew more than I did.

  3. Not saying this is true in SW Virginia where the amount available per child is lower than elsewhere in the Commonwealth, but in some rural districts, the enrollment has been declining as the population is aging and not growing. Yet the districts, in spite of being given funds by county boards to cover raises and step increases fail to reduce their administrative overhead. School testing declines do not improve with rising school budgets. Comparing local salaries to statewide medians or worse, national numbers, doesn’t reflect the relative cost of living in Va rural districts.

    If other areas are seeing similar situations with residents facing 40% increases in personal property tax on their vehicles here in Mathews, residents expect the school districts to demonstrate what they are doing to curb costs other than teacher salaries.

    1. Carol, you’re right — there is not much correlation at the school district level between teacher pay and student achievement. We’ve shown the evidence for that here on Bacon’s Rebellion.

      But I sense that we’re reaching an inflection point. Things have so deteriorated that teachers are leaving the profession faster than they can be replaced. What happens next? Class sizes get larger, more work gets dumped on the teachers who remain, and they get burned out, too. I’m worrying that many districts could enter a downward spiral they can’t pull out of.

      (A similar thing is occurring with the police. Low pay, increasing risk, increased hostility of large swaths of the public.)

      I’m a fiscal conservative, and I hate increasing government spending. But K-12 education and policing are core government programs.

      I’d be opposed to jacking up pay without addressing other conditions contributing to poor teacher morale. But increasing pay is one of the things that needs to be done.

  4. Moderate Avatar

    Given the public complaints about and distrust over what teachers are doing, along with COVID and long standing lack of investment in infrastructure and support, to say nothing of salary, why would anyone want to teach today? It’s not a hospitable environment and folks encourage parents to question, not support teachers – unlike years ago when parents supported teachers. The culture war makes it impossible for a teacher to achieve. Those who care need to work on changing teachers’ work environment and providing adequate financial support for teachers and their workplaces.

  5. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    Teachers are required to obtain levels of education and engage in professional development. Improve morale by encouraging teacher unions to give these professionals a voice. Student loan forgiveness along with affordable housing could assist in recruitment. All on this thread seem to agree with supporting teachers. Doing it well will pay off in the long run.

  6. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    We need to get rid of the Eurocentric model that says teachers must “go to college”. That education at institutions founded upon whiteness somehow makes you “qualified” to teach children. Millions of people in the world are taught every day by “teachers” who aren’t “qualified”.
    Americans should learn their place in the world. This notion of “exceptionalism” is grotesque. It’s time for our villages to raise the children!

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      “All (men — orig. text) are my teachers that I might learn from them” — Someone of note not worth looking up. Ideas, events, people.

    2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      Really, try teaching for a day.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Living in Wise on median teacher income is better than living in Fairfax on median teacher income.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Interesting that you use median incomes while Matt Hurt (in his graph) uses averages. I think median is a much better method of comparison.

      Talbot County, MD has the second highest average family income but the 14th highest median household income (of 24 counties).

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        The last thing you need in your calculations is a Walton in the county.

  8. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Yep. Only after my wife left the public schools, took her full VRS in her 50s (50 and 30, baby, gotta love it) and went on to a nice private school gig did the combination of the two finally pay her was she was worth. People teaching in our Apprentice School at the shipyard did far better than their public schools peers in the area.

    But the school boards and administrators will resist the first and most important step toward freeing up the bucks — attacking the administrative bloat and bureaucratic nonsense sucking dollars away from the front line. Its like our wonderful US Navy, which has far more than one admiral per ship. Just try to kill off the DEI and other nonsense. I’ll stand back and watch.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      There is an irony in the “50 and 30” policy. Many years ago, the late Stuart Connock remarked to me that policy was instituted as an incentive to get older teachers out in order to make way for younger ones.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    On the administrative “bloat” the percent of administrators versus teachers is probably less than 10% and lets say you need at least some of them and let’s say they get paid 100K – probably can buy 2 entry level teachers.

    I suspect the smaller and more rural don’t have many compared to the more urban but I doubt that many more entry level could be bought by shedding some number of administrators.

    And the salary thing – if someone with a 4yr degree has a choice between being an “analyst’ type person at some corporate versus a teacher on the front lines with all the political stuff and tip lines and other – it’s gonna be the rare person who still chooses that abusive job.

    And ditto with veterans, at some point, it’s whether you stay with all the conflict and chaos or choose a less stressful way to make a living.

    We have a recently elected school board , conservative majority. Fired the superintendent without cause and did not understand the value of a company to assist in the search. They wanted HR to do it.

    They refused salary increases for bus drivers and para educators…

    They are in the process of removing books from the library.

    The teachers who are still employed are watching all of this after being hammered earlier for being opposed to in-person in the middle of COVID and wanting masks for in-person.

    Not sure what vision the Conservatives have for the schools but they have a couple of years before the next election so we’ll see and that includes how many teachers they keep and recruit.

  10. Lefty665 Avatar

    Not sure average annual household income (AHI) is a good statistic to use. It is profoundly affected by high income areas. Median household income would be a better measure. In Virginia average AHI is $106k and median AHI is $76k. The top zip code average AHI is $441k, and the top 6 average AHI zip codes are $250k or more.

    The same logic would likely be true for teacher’s salaries with median salaries being a more representative measure than average, although the difference might not be as dramatic as with AHI.

    With the state rolling in money this year and inflation already running at 8.5% and increasing why are teachers not getting 10% raises? The GA should be ashamed of itself. I’d bet that teachers did not come close to getting increases to cover the 6.8% inflation last year either.

    In fact the adjustments this year don’t even cover last years inflation, so the coming year is all coming right out of teachers pockets. There’s an incentive to attract and retain teachers “Come to work in Virginia and every year your real income will go down.”

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I just made that same point and then read yours. You are right. Methinks Mr. Hurt knows how to select his statistical measures to make his point.

      1. Matt Hurt Avatar
        Matt Hurt

        If we were comparing localities within Virginia, I would agree with you. However, we’re comparing large states with populations in the millions. Similarly, since we’re talking about average teacher salaries, I decided it was best to use the same statistics for household income, more of an apples to apples comparison.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    When it comes to teaching, you get what you pay for. An entry level teacher will take years to become an accomplished professional and that professional will cost quite a bit more than the entry level. As the teacher workforce gains experience, the costs goes up even if raises are foregone.

    My understanding is that about 90% of school costs are actually salaries.

    You can save money but not gobs of it. Buses and Bus drivers you can’t save money on without problems with not enough buses or drivers.

    Can’t skimp on custodians nor lunch workers minimally paid workers , anyhow.

    But the 600lb elephant in the room is that many Conservatives simply do not like the way Public Schools operate and that was true even before the latest “unpleasantness” . Teachers are suspected of being “liberals” and trying to “indoctrinate” kids… the VEA is evil and needs to be done away with, teachers ‘only’ work 9 months of the year… and schools eat half the budget and drive property tax increases. Yadda yadda.

    Clearly, many Conservatives want taxpayer funds given to the parents who will then “shop” for the best school for their kids, preferably a private school with no SOL accountability or other transparency required of public schools.

    So not quite understanding all the hand-wringing over the staffing of the public schools. I suspect if by some miracle , that vouchers were approved in the GA, many conservative counties would gladly cut funding to public schools and watch hopefully for them wither away.


    1. Normally, when a school system is given money to hire teachers, they hire one administrator for every teacher. Not a good way to spend the dollars, but our great legislature has made a mess of the whole thing. BTW private schools are held accountable by the VBOE. My son took tests every year that were reported to the VBOE so the school could maintain its accreditation. It wasn’t SOLs, but my son said they were harder.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        really? one for one?

    2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      Larry, what an interesting concept. You actually may be right. If I were a small county where 85-90% of the education funding went toward salary, vouchers may be a way of bringing down the cost. It would have to be a middle to upper middle income district with little SOQ funding. Hmmm. You got me thinking.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Hey Kathlleen, geeze you finally answered one of my posts. I’m HONORED!


        I guess if one considers any money spent on public schools as going for stuff not needed and one could shed all that extra money by giving voucher to kids to attend bare-bones schools.

        Is that your point?

        Just pure instruction only on SOLs. No sports or music or nurses or counselors. no buses or cafeteria?

        Or maybe I miss your point?

        I’m okay with vouchers as long as the schools have to be just as transparent and accountable on SOL academics.

        If they can find a better way to do the job, fine by me, the public schools do need some competition.

  12. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    “we will be forced to significantly lower our teacher licensure standards to staff our classrooms”

    We are already there Mr. Hurt and it will continue for some time to come.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      How much does the licensure matter? Perhaps more accurately, is the amount of time and money required to achieve licensure commensurate with the benefits of licensure?

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Youngkin could lead the charge to unclog the teacher pipeline. You could honestly get rid of half of the requirements. Make teacher complete those items upon license renewal. Kick out all Praxis scores. Those are barriers for some very good teachers I know. They just weren’t standardized test takes. The cut scores used to be ridiculously high.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          Another question is around career teachers vs people who teach for some period of time shorter than a career.

          One thing that prevents people from teaching for say … 5 years is that they lose the value of the retirement they will never receive. Given the salary of teachers and the robustness of the retirement this seems like a real impediment to finding qualified people who would teach for fewer years than needed to qualify for retirement.

          Shouldn’t teachers be able to decide between a retirement provided after 20 years and an equivalent contribution into a 401(k) plan that is transportable?

          1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
            James Wyatt Whitehead

            If you were hired after 2014 you are on the VRS hybrid plan. Not my area of expertise but I believe some of it is transportable. If one is the classroom for the retirement benefits you need to stay until age 67 and have at least 40 years of service. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/da68c84bf7b591b9925b67f37f7a0c01489a0b582a093659af5d8da49e6afd51.jpg

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            For quite some time, teachers have had the ability to create and contribute to 403b plans.

            But most teachers take several years before they are really seasoned and very capable.

            Right out of school, they are babes in the woods.. I bet James will back this up.

            Before you can ever teach, you have to be able to ‘manage” that classroom. It’s not a skill everyone has.

  13. Lefty665 Avatar

    Another question. With spending per pupil running up to $16k (avg what maybe $10k?) that makes teacher pay crudely around 5 students spending (around $2k of every $10k per pupil spending). If (and it’s just my guess) class size is 25 where is the money going from the other 80% of students ($8k per student) ?

    In figuring company budgets our rule of thumb was that personnel was usually around 75% of operating costs, occupancy around $15% and 10% everything else. That gave us a sanity check when constructing budgets. If that holds roughly true in schools that means teachers are a small fraction of personnel costs. Certainly there are other direct service staff including teaching assistants, coaches, librarians, custodians and nurses, but with teachers maybe 1/3 of personnel costs that leaves a heck of a lot of personnel money unaccounted for.

    In the elementary school where my wife taught they had a principal, an assistant principal, the counselor listed as an administrator and a couple of office staff for about 1k kids. Where’s all the personnel overhead going?

    1. Matt Hurt Avatar
      Matt Hurt

      There’s a few things that you may not have included in your calculation.

      First, salaries usually comprise about 2/3 of the cost of the employee with benefits and such making up the rest.

      Second, the average class size is not what you’d use to calculate staffing costs, but rather the pupil teacher ratio. According to Table 17, in 2020 (the more recent year available) the state average was just about 13:1.

      Third, the average expenditure per student is right around $13,000, except it averages below $11,500 in my neck of the woods.

      Once you factor these into the mix, you’ll probably come a little closer.

      1. Lefty665 Avatar

        Thank you. Looks like 4/3 and 2/3 are similar numbers, just expressed either as fringes added to wages or subtracted from the total cost. Fringes run around 1/3 of salaries. 13:1 surprises me, it seems optimistic. Guess that includes the other direct service folks I crudely enumerated, aides. coaches, librarians, etc. I’ll go read up. $13k is a lot of money per kid. Seems it should be enough to do nicely. I used $10k in part because it made the math easy to see. Again, thanks.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Union dues? The usual overhead multiplier for professionals is around 2.5x to 3.5x salary. So a teacher “costs” as much as, say, 3x their salary. That cost includes benefits and the building, admin, supplies, etc. A “body shop” multiplier runs between 1.5 and 2.0.

      Actually, for a teacher, use 2.5.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        But, as Lefty points out, teacher overhead is 4X not 2.5 – 3.5X. Shouldn’t eliminating some of the overhead and transferring the money to front line teachers be a consideration?

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          He’s probably miscalculated, or missed something. But, it’s possible they’ve become grossly overweight.

      2. Lefty665 Avatar

        Lots of ways to load personnel costs, but pay at 1/3 of total costs is way lower than our experience. We figured fringes, including taxes and things like paid leave and retirement ran around 1/3 of direct salaries. That made total personnel cost around 4/3 of pay and far more than 1/3 total costs. Be a boring world if everything was the same.

        We tended to bill professional services at around 3x wage rate. That covered unbillable time, overhead, and return on investment. If that’s what you’re referring to then we’re right in synch. That multiplier also gave a little wiggle room to discount for good customers or other circumstances and still come out ok.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Uh yep. A little over 3 for us. Worked like dogs to shave it down too. Lost a lot contracts to the university “body shops” too. GTRI, ODURI, they pay their people well, but they adopt the “publish or perish” and have low multipliers.

        2. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          BTW, no doubt the school’s overhead and “indirect” admin is bloat, but somebody has to produce all of the statistics and reports so the BR “reporters” can misunderstand and misuse them.

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Yes. Oft misused garbage.

    3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      There is no need to speculate. All the information you seek is publicly available. Just find your local school board’s annual operating budget. It is likely available at the click of your mouse.

  14. LarrytheG Avatar

    To give Matt’s Region VII , it due – they lead the state but Nova is not that far behind and Region VIII which is rural also – is dead last.

    Whatever Region 7 is doing well , Region 8 is not.

  15. Fred Costello Avatar
    Fred Costello

    My relatives who have been teaching for many years want to quit as soon as they can afford to quit because students behave so badly and because they are forced to teach obnoxious stuff (e.g., sex and CRT). The pension is difficult to abandon.

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