Understaffing in schools is a major concern nationwide, survey shows

More than half of school leaders reported starting the 2022–23 school year understaffed, according to recently released survey data of 904 schools from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Overall, 53 percent of public school leaders reporting feeling understaffed entering the current school year across various positions, with special education teachers (65 percent) and transportation staff (59 percent) considered the most understaffed positions.

Teacher shortages are making it increasingly difficult for schools to address the academic needs of students, which have only grown as educators work to help children overcome pre-existing gaps that were exacerbated by extended pandemic-driven trauma and campus closures. Meanwhile, a lack of transportation staff nationwide has made it increasingly difficult for education officials to not only ensure students get to school on time, but also to schedule before- and after-school academic intervention programs.

Research also shows that teacher, transportation and mental health staffing shortages are disproportionately impacting students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities and those in rural communities.

Among the key findings of the latest National Center for Education Statistics survey:

  • Schools in the West reported the highest rate of feeling understaffed at 59 percent, compared to the Northeast, the lowest, at 48 percent.
  • Of all public schools with a vacancy, 48 percent reported it was “very difficult” filling special education teaching positions with fully certified teachers. Other positions considered very difficult to fill with fully certified teachers included career technical education (48 percent), math (45 percent), foreign languages (51 percent) and physical sciences (43 percent).
  • The most common challenges in filling vacant teaching positions for the 2022–23 school year were too few candidates applying (69 percent overall, peaking at 74 percent in the South) and a lack of qualified candidates applying (64 percent overall, reaching 69 percent in the South).
  • The percentage of schools reporting difficulty of filling non-teaching staff positions with a fully certified staff member found it “very difficult” to hire transportation staff (74 percent), custodial staff (51 percent), medical and mental health professionals (both 40 percent) and nutrition staff (40 percent).
  • Similar to filling educator positions, the most common challenges to hiring non-teaching staff with a fully certified staff member were too few candidates applying (63 percent overall, topping at 75 percent in the Midwest) and a lack of qualified candidates applying (50 percent overall, and 54 percent in the West).

State and federal policymakers as well as local educational agencies are implementing creative solutions to solving staff shortages, from strengthening and expanding recruitment efforts, to forging ahead with education workforce housing, to partnering with local universities, organizations and other agencies.