School Vacancies Remain a Challenge for 2023-2024 School Year

Nationally, 86% of public schools report difficulties hiring teachers, and 83% are having trouble hiring nonteaching staff.

New data shows that hiring and retaining teachers and school staff remains a top challenge for public K-12 education nationwide. It is no secret that teachers are leaving the profession at a concerning rate nationwide, and hiring new education staff remains a significant challenge, including in Maryland. Many hoped that the 2023-2024 school year would prove a turning point for school vacancies, but recent data shows that is not the case.

Data on this school year’s vacancies shows that hiring and retaining teachers and other school staff remains challenging for most of America’s public schools. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) School Pulse Panel August 2023 survey found that:

  • 86% of public schools reported difficulties hiring teachers
    • Special education remained among the most difficult teaching positions to fill this fall, with physical science and foreign language following behind.
  • 83% find it hard to hire non-teaching staff
    • For non-teaching staff, the hardest-to-fill positions included classroom aides, transportation, and custodial jobs.
  • Schools reporting less understaffing year over year were low-poverty schools, schools serving the lowest percentages of students of color, and generally, elementary schools, large schools, suburban schools, and schools in the West.

Fewer staff, but not feeling understaffed

Interestingly, the data showing that most public schools are having trouble hiring and retaining staff found that despite these ongoing staffing challenges, a smaller percentage of U.S. public schools reported feeling understaffed compared to the start of last school year, 45 percent versus 53 percent. Even schools in high-poverty neighborhoods and those with more than 25 percent students of color didn’t feel significantly less understaffed, according to NCES.

The NCES survey also found that schools cite the same challenges as last year to hire and retain staff: too few candidates overall, a lack of qualified applicants, and candidates turning down offers because of unsatisfactory salaries and benefits.  Notably, however, the same data shows significantly fewer teaching candidates turned down job offers for reasons other than salary, suggesting that pay is less of a barrier to entry than previously thought.

And student-teacher ratios are improving…

As recently reported by Conduit Street, despite the ongoing hiring and retention challenges, new research shows that “on a per-student basis, public school staffing levels are hitting all-time highs,” meaning that student-teacher ratios are improving. This is primarily thought to be a lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data from around the country shows that school districts largely continued hiring new staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which nationwide enrollment declined. Chad Aldeman, policy director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, calls the current surge in school hiring a “rush to hire.” In The74, he noted, “It’s a weird time to be having a national conversation about teacher shortages. Thanks in part to the surge of federal relief funds, schools have ambitious hiring plans — but they have been unable to bring on as many people as they would like. As of last month, job openings remain elevated well above normal levels.”

This ongoing hiring has helped lower student-teacher ratios across the country, even as overall school enrollment continues declining during the pandemic.