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Number of unfilled teaching jobs drastically rising in South Carolina

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 1:40 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2021 at 7:07 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - South Carolina’s teacher shortage has worsened in the last year, with more than a thousand teaching jobs unfilled at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year across the state.

That number of vacancies is a 52% increase from the number of opening teaching jobs at the start of the 2020-2021 school year and an 88% increase from the 2019-2020 year, according to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, & Advancement’s 2021 South Carolina Annual Educator Supply & Demand Report. The report compiles data collected through surveys from 83 public school districts, career and technology centers, and state agencies in South Carolina.

“This report is a stark reminder of the tremendous challenge our schools face in recruiting and retaining classroom educators and should serve as a wake-up call for decision makers at the state and local levels to act quickly to make certain that every child is served by an outstanding teacher and reaches their full potential,” State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said.

The approximately 1,060 teaching and service positions unfilled at the start of this school year is the largest number of openings that districts reported since the survey was first administered 20 years ago, representing less than 2% of the state’s more than 56,000 full-time and part-time teaching and service jobs existing at the beginning of this school year.

CERRA defines teaching positions as those held by certified educators who provide instruction in a classroom setting, while service positions are those held by certified educators who provide instruction and support in a school setting, such as counselors, librarians, and psychologists.

“When more than 1,000 classrooms in South Carolina started this school year with a vacant teaching position, that means we have thousands of students across our state that are at an educational disadvantage from the very start of the year,” Patrick Kelly of the Palmetto State Teachers Association said.

The report states the increase in teacher departures — with nearly 7,000 teachers not returning to a teaching job in their districts from last year to this year, more than a 15% jump in that number from last year’s survey — was likely the main contributor to the rise in vacancies.

“While most of the vacancies created by these departures are filled with new hires prior to the beginning of each school year, some remain empty as described in this section,” the report said. “Another possible explanation for the growing number of vacancies may be linked to positions newly created by districts that have yet to be filled. Finally, districts continue to struggle with hiring and keeping teachers, partially due to COVID and its overwhelming impact.”

The report states 34% of teachers who did not return to their jobs left for external reasons, such as personal, health, or family reasons, and 18.5% retired. More than a quarter did not provide a reason for their departure, while 23% of those who left have moved jobs to teach in another public school district in South Carolina.

Spearman said the state is investing part of its federal pandemic relief money into educator recruitment programs and has asked the General Assembly for more than $160 million in the next budget to raise teachers’ salaries across the board.

She said the South Carolina Department of Education also supports state lawmakers taking actions requested by educators to address the shortage, including passing a bill that would provide teachers with protected planning time.

Kelly and Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association, said the state needs to improve working conditions for teachers.

“CERRA’s recent Supply and Demand report confirms what many in public education already knew — the existing educator shortage has grown to crisis levels,” East said. “It’s time for our legislature to address the crisis by listening to the educators. To do this, South Carolina must address the working conditions and take action to recruit and retain educators. Working conditions are learning conditions, and South Carolina students deserve better.”

“At the end of the day, the curriculum in the classroom doesn’t matter, and the school setting that you choose for your child doesn’t matter if there’s not a great teacher in the classroom,” Kelly added.

The report notes less-experienced teachers are leaving their jobs at a slower rate. The report details 35% of those who left their jobs had five or fewer years of experience in the classroom, which is a 42% decrease from the 2020 report.

More teachers have also been hired, with districts reporting they had collectively hired more than 7,000 teachers for this school year, an 11% rise from the number of hires last year.