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How the critical teacher shortage is hitting Lee County schools

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Posted at 7:37 AM, Jun 26, 2023

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — School may be out for the summer, but the Lee County School District is working hard to recruit teachers for this upcoming school year and fill about 400 positions.

So what exactly is causing the teacher burnout?

Kevin Daly, President of the Teacher's Association of Lee County, said it all comes down to money.

“This has to do with funding from the state," Daly said. "I think we are 47th or 48th [in the country] in per pupil funding. Even though they just tooted their horn for a record-breaking budget.”

Daly taught special education for 21 years and said teacher pay is a huge concern. Despite Florida's high cost of living, World Population Review ranks the state as 48th in the nation for teacher base pay.

"Obviously we had a catastrophic hurricane in the fall. A lot of families were displaced, people moved away and also the cost of living here has increased significantly," said Suzette Rivera, Director of Recruitment for the Lee County School District.

Because of those factors, Rivera said it can be hard for teachers to make Lee County their home.

“We are trying to work closely with some of our community partners addressing some of those needs, especially with housing and relocation."

According to the Department of Education's latest Critical Teacher Shortage Report, English and special education teachers are in a critical shortage. Lee County is particularly struggling with special education.

"We have about 70 vacant positions," Rivera said of the special education department.

Florida's Administrative Code determines a critical shortage based on the following criteria:

  • When a substantial amount of teachers are being hired to teach courses they are not certified in.
  • The number of vacancies in the position.
  • When higher education does not produce enough graduates to meet the needs of Florida's K-12 student population.

"We used to see well over 120, 130 graduates for one semester," Rivera said. "That number has gone down significantly."
In 2020, the University of South Florida announced it would eliminate its College of Education due to budgeting issues.

The Lee County School District said some of the new challenges they're faced with this year are tow new schools opening, which still need 80 positions filled.