Study shows severe Arizona teacher shortage continues

Since 2016, nearly a quarter of teaching positions remain open a month into the school year.
The Arizona teacher shortage continues to worsen, as there are 2,890 vacancies across 194 school and charter districts.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 9:02 AM MST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2023 at 2:06 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) -New data shows that as of January 2023, the Arizona teacher shortage continues to worsen, with 2,890 vacancies across 194 school and charter districts.

This is the seventh consecutive year, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association survey has shown the severity of the retention crisis.

“We have working conditions where we don’t have the resources, and we need to perform the jobs we need to do. Many of us are spending weekends preparing for those or going to the store and buying the materials that we need,” said Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association.

At Tucson Unified School District, of the 2,700 teachers employed, there are 216 vacancies. To fill these vacancies, the district has had to implement strategies to cover classes.

“That involves getting somebody with a substitute certification to teach long-term. We have teachers who are voluntarily giving up their planning time to teach classes that need attention,” said Jon Fernandez, a chief human capital officer at Tucson Unified School District. “At elementary schools, where the enrollment makes it possible, we combine classes.”

Garcia said the reason behind these vacancies is multi-faceted. It combines a lack of resources, inadequate pay, and respect.

“If I’m a 22-year-old recent graduate, and I’m choosing to enter the profession, do I want to enter one where I’m not going to have the resources to be paid well, not have healthcare, not be able to afford housing and then be treated disrespectfully publicly,” said Garcia.

Educators add they also deal with teachers leaving throughout the school year. As of January 2023, 1,873 teachers have severed their employment since the start of the school year.

“Since the beginning of our school year, we have about 150 teachers who have left employment, left that’s probably around four or 5% of our positions that again, we have to scramble to try to fill,” said Fernandez.

Some factors include finding a better-paying position out-of-state, switching professions, family, and respect.

“You also have a climate that is making it really challenging for teachers to remain in the classroom, so not only are we looking at a funding issue that continues year after year, but you’re also looking at a national climate rhetoric that is out there that is dissuading people from wanting to stay in the profession,” said Alexis Wilson, president of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.

Due to the increased vacancies, 44% of positions are filled by individuals who do not meet the state’s standard teaching requirements. Individuals fill vacancies with an emergency teacher/substitute certificate, an alternate pathway certificate, a student teacher certificate, or pending certification.

“As a parent, you need to start asking which one of my kids hasn’t had an uncertified or under-certified person in front of them, because it’s not at another school. It’s more than likely happening in your school,” said Garcia.

One possible incentive for the retention and shortage crisis is the “Pay Teachers First” bill in the Arizona Legislature. H.B. 2800, introduced by Representative Matt Gress (R-4) would give every Arizona teacher a $10,000 raise, implemented over two years.

“School districts would be required by the legislature to raise the salary schedules of all teachers by $10,000, and eligible teachers that are affected are those who teach in the classroom more than 50% of the time and have positive employee evaluations,” said Representative Matt Gress (R-4). “Then this pay teachers first fund would send checks to the districts to help them meet their payroll needs.”

Gress, a former teacher himself, said that this is the step the state needs to address the critical needs in the classroom.