National data shines light on challenges surrounding staffing shortages

Schools across the country continue to face challenges related to teacher vacancies, supply chain issues and more — particularly those in low-income areas serving more minority students, according to data released Dec. 6 by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

As of October 2022, 18 percent of public schools had one teaching vacancy and 27 percent had multiple teaching vacancies, with the average school reporting two vacant teaching positions. Overall, 4 percent of all public school teaching positions across the country were vacant.

In high-poverty neighborhood schools, 57 percent had at least one teaching vacancy, compared to 41 percent of public schools in low-poverty neighborhoods, and 60 percent of 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).

Six percent of schools overall also reported non-teaching staff vacancies, with as many as 24 percent reporting multiple non-teaching staff vacancies. The top three non-teaching staff positions with the highest vacancy rates were tutors (9 percent), transportation staff (8 percent) and custodial staff (8 percent).

“Public schools continue to have difficulty filling critical positions, with higher percentages of high-poverty schools and schools with high-minority student populations experiencing teaching vacancies than other schools,” NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr said. “But these data show that teacher vacancies are not the only challenge facing schools this academic year. The majority of schools have experienced problems acquiring necessities like food, electronics, and furniture because of supply-chain issues during this school year so far. These data provide insight into the challenges emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic that schools continue to experience.”

Beyond teacher vacancies

Procurement challenges that appeared to be the result of supply-chain disruptions during the 2022–23 school year plagued 83 percent of schools — most prevalently in in procuring items for food services (55 percent), laptops and other electronic devices (48 percent) and furniture (30 percent).

The most common responses to supply-chain issues included reducing options available to staff and students (e.g., fewer menu items; 48 percent), purchasing products that were alternatives to those originally intended (47 percent), and identifying alternate vendors for the same products (40 percent).

Among other key findings, 88 percent of schools participated in USDA School Meal programs, a decrease from the 94 percent of schools that reported participating as of March 2022, during the 2021–22 school year. Schools also reported a decline in meal program participation, which decreased from 84 percent of schools where more than half of the student body utilized these programs in the 2021–22 to 69 percent reporting the same in 2022–23.

Schools largely reported difficulties convincing parents to submit applications for free or reduced-price meals (34 percent), school food service staffing shortages (32 percent), and increased program costs (29 percent).

NCES findings come from its monthly School Pulse Panel, which collected data from 990 participating schools between Oct. 11 and Oct. 25, 2022.