TAMPA, Fla. — New data released by Florida’s Department of Education shows last year, the number of teachers who left the classroom was slightly down from record high resignations the year prior.
While that is some good news, Florida investigative reporter Katie LaGrone found there are still serious concerns about what's really driving teachers out.
“I can't say that salary wasn't a considerable factor for a lot of my friends and myself who were looking elsewhere,” said Megan Young, who just left her job as a high school English teacher in St. Augustine.
Young took the unusual step of calling it quits in the middle of a school year.
“I was mentoring teachers in my profession who were making the same amount of money as me, and I had 14 years’ experience and a master's degree,” Young told LaGrone recently.
Colleen Petersen's emotions are still high after 32 years of teaching in St. Lucie County ended when politics ultimately pushed her away this past summer.
“When I got that email saying you have to pack up your library and you couldn't put it out for the beginning of the school year until it was approved. I was like, 'No I’m done.' So now my books are all sitting in a warehouse in Port St. Lucie not being used by kids,” she said as she grew emotional.
Shawna Berger in Hillsborough County said there was a little bit of everything that finally forced the high school English teacher out.
“Especially in Florida and around the time of the pandemic, there was a lot of political contention surrounding public education whether we, as teachers wanted to be involved in it or not," Berger said.
She continued, "Then the teaching salaries not matching the rising cost of living in Florida. All of these factors just contributed to me thinking, I’d like to see what else is out there for me."
As Florida continues struggling to recruit new teachers, Young, Petersen and Berger are among the thousands of existing teachers still making the decision to leave the profession.
State data we recently obtained through a public record request to Florida’s Department of Education (FLDOE) showed last year, just over 18,000 publicly employed teachers, or just under 10% of the state’s total, left their jobs in the classroom.
The latest numbers represented less than a half a percent decrease from a year earlier when pandemic stresses and politically motivated policies were widely blamed for a record-breaking teacher exodus in the state totaling more than 19,000 teacher separations.
The data showed at the local level, districts around the state also experienced a slight drop in teachers leaving but not enough to make much of a dent in easing those vacancy rates which remain a huge problem in Florida and could get worse.
The FLDOE now projects teacher vacancies could surpass 10,000 during the 2024/2025 school year, according to recent documents that will be presented to the Board of Education this week.
“It’s still a really large number,” said Andrew Spar, head of Florida’s largest teachers’ union, when asked about the number of teachers leaving and the slight drop year over year.
The data also revealed, In broad terms, why teachers leave. According to the state, the number one driving force last year was “personal reasons.” Number two was retirement, and number three was described as “reasons not known.”
“I would bet that for many of those, it's because of financial reasons, it’s because they can't do their jobs anymore, and it's because of the increased stress and anxiety that teachers are feeling in the classroom right now,” said Spar.
High school English teacher Phillip Belastro, who’s still teaching in St. Petersburg, doesn’t disagree with Spar’s thoughts.
“There's just a lot of a lot of state meddling in local affairs,” he said. “Why wouldn't you just go where they're going to pay you more and your money is going to go further?”
Which is why, Belcastro said, this year will likely be his last year teaching in Florida, and he predicts he’s far from being alone.
“Why would you subject yourself to the pay, to the overreach and to the working off the clock? It’s pretty wild so I don't think we've seen the worst of it yet,” he said.