Schools across the country are experiencing teacher shortages. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of October 2022, 18% of public schools across the United States had one teacher position unfilled, 27% had multiple teacher vacancies, and overall, 4% of public school teacher positions were vacant. The average was two positions per school.

High-poverty areas experienced even greater vacancies:

More than half of public schools in high-poverty neighborhoods (57 percent) had at least one teaching vacancy, compared to 41 percent of public schools in low-poverty neighborhoods. Sixty percent of public schools with a high-minority student body (greater than 75 percent minority) had at least one teaching vacancy, compared to 32 percent of schools with a low-minority student body (25 percent or less minority).

The trend is similar to non-teaching school staff positions. Six percent of all public school positions outside of teaching are vacant, which translates to an average of one unfilled non-teaching position per school.

These shortages present a tremendous challenge to school leadership. During this time, 99% of public schools had returned to in-person learning. Therefore, a lack of teachers and support staff doesn’t just mean students aren’t learning or getting their needs met. It’s also a legal liability for the school to have insufficient supervision of students.

The data indicate that southern and rural states are experiencing the school personnel problem more acutely, dating back to before the Covid-19 pandemic. Mississippi is among the hardest hit, with the worst teacher shortage of the 37 states with available data. According to The Washington Post, for every 10,000 students, 69 teacher positions are either “unfilled or filled by someone without traditional credentials,” which, as the Post points out, is 159 times that of Missouri, also a rural state. The Mississippi Department of Education conducted a survey in 2022 and found that upward of 3,000 teacher positions were vacant throughout the state.

For an example of the impact, consider the West Bolivar Consolidated School District, where the teacher shortages translate to students having a long-term substitute, virtual instruction with no teacher learning support, and teachers teaching subjects they are not trained or equipped to teach. None of this is good for student learning.

Low teacher pay is also an issue in Mississippi, representing a disincentive to entering the teaching profession or staying long-term. According to a National Education Association’s Report, in 2021, Mississippi was last in the nation for average teacher pay, with an average annual salary of $46,862, a number well below the national average of $65,293 or the high of $90,222 in New York State. It should be noted, however, that a historic teacher pay raise was granted in 2022, which boosted the average salary by $5,140.

Throughout the country and in Mississippi particularly, the teacher shortage has become severe. Looking back, U.S. public schools lost more than 120,000 teachers between 2008-2010, during the Great Recession. In Mississippi, between 2008 and 2019, one-third fewer candidates entered the teaching profession — a situation made all the more significant due to the 2008 mass departures of existing teachers from the field.

Teacher Pipeline Expansion Recommendations

To address the teacher shortage in Mississippi, my colleagues and I at the Discovery Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education (ACTE) recommend teacher pipeline expansion through actions in three broad categories: 1) remove barriers to entry into the teaching profession, 2) hire and retain quality teachers, and 3) implement performance pay.

Each of these three categories has multiple recommended actions, which are outlined in the report. Reference to policy briefs and articles, which have received support and adoption nationally, are provided for greater detail.

Click HERE to read the full report.