Virginia has more teachers leaving the workforce than newly licensed teachers entering it, according to a report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.
Data show that 10,900 teachers left the workforce ahead of the current school year, while only 7,208 teachers with first-time licenses were hired.
The finding was part of a broader study by the commission on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on students and staff in K-12 public schools.
“This is a major, substantial report from a nonpartisan arm of our legislature and it clearly points to the fact that significant new investments are needed to meet student needs and address our major teacher shortage,” said Chad Stewart, a policy analyst for the Virginia Education Association. “And the administration will show us how seriously they’re ready to respond to these recommendations based on what they choose to put into their update to the budget come December.”
JLARC found that “prior to the pandemic, there were about 800 vacant teaching positions statewide, on average.” That number rose “substantially” to about 2,800 vacant positions in October 2021 and 3,300 as of mid-August 2022.
“The majority of divisions (86 of 131) had higher teacher turnover between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school year when compared with before the pandemic,” JLARC found. Turnover increased the most in Highland, King and Queen and Southampton counties, while vacancy rates in fall 2021 were highest in Franklin City, at 32%, and Norfolk, at 17%.
School divisions have relied on provisionally licensed teachers to fill vacant positions, JLARC found. During the 2021-22 school year, 9.5% of the overall teacher workforce were provisionally licensed teachers, up from 7.7% pre-pandemic. Out-of-field teachers, or those who teach a subject matter that differs from their area of certification, grew from 2.4% of the workforce pre-pandemic to 6.2% in 2021-22.
To address teacher shortages, the commission recommended providing additional funding to school divisions with increased teacher turnover for retention and signing bonuses and offering tuition assistance for provisional license holders to become fully licensed.
Low pay and increased behavioral and mental health issues among students have contributed to lower job satisfaction for teachers, JLARC staff said. Teachers also cited a higher workload due to vacancies and a lack of respect from parents and the public as sources of dissatisfaction.
Staff said when students returned to in-person learning, teachers found classroom behaviors, student absences and reported mental health issues had worsened.
Data show high vacancy rates for school psychologists, as well as a 19% chronic absenteeism rate among students statewide.
Staff recommended lawmakers provide school divisions with funding for training on behavioral issues and classroom management.
They also suggested lawmakers consider amending state law to clearly define direct school counseling to help reduce the amount of time counselors spend on non-counseling activities, and to allow qualified and licensed psychologists in other fields to be provisionally licensed.
Virginia lawmakers have taken a variety of approaches to addressing teacher shortages.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly funded 5% raises for teachers in the next two years, one-time $1,000 bonuses and teacher signing bonuses.
In September, Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive directive outlining plans to address teacher shortages through steps such as hiring retired educators.
Student academic achievement also declined during the pandemic, particularly in reading and mathematics. Last month, fourth- and eighth-grade results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed declines in Virginia in both reading and math between 2019 and 2022.
However, JLARC found that Virginia lacks a program to specifically address the decline in elementary student math and recommended lawmakers consider creating and funding a temporary program for students who fail their math Standards of Learning tests.
Youngkin has also announced plans to combat learning loss through a $30 million investment in learning recovery grants and new partnerships with two national groups to provide educational resources and tutoring services.
Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera said officials should use JLARC’s data as a “flashlight and not as a hammer.”
Democratic Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, disagreed with the notion that learning losses are entirely due to the pandemic. She said “the achievement gap did not start as a consequence of the pandemic. The achievement gaps were there prior to the pandemic, and the pandemic exacerbated the problem.”