Survey results released Thursday by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) show 751 teachers across the state have "severed employment" since the start of this school year and nearly half of them, or 326, resigned or retired because of COVID-19.
Since 2017, the number of resignations and retirements has hovered between 526 and 427. This school year, 425 teachers were already on track to do so.
"Arizona continues to experience a severe teacher shortage," said Justin Wing, data coordinator for the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association and human resources director for the Washington Elementary School District. "The root cause is we don’t have anyone to replace them with. Every day you’re balancing, there’s not a certain time of the year that you’re having to do this balance with the teacher staffing, you’re doing it sometimes even multiple times in a day."
Of the 751 teachers who "severed employment":
-554 resigned and broke their contract
-141 never reported to work
-56 abandoned their position
The survey compiled data from 145 school districts and charter schools as of August 31, and found 633 "other staff" members also resigned or retired because of coronavirus.
The annual survey from ASPAA also focuses on teacher vacancies.
About 28 percent of teacher vacancies, or 1,728 positions, across the state this school year remain unfilled, up from about 20 percent this time last year. Half of the more than 6,000 vacant teacher positions heading into the 2020-2021 school year, are now filled by teachers who do not meet the state's certification requirements.
"School district and charters are having to hire more individuals who don’t have that college education background to be teachers, which puts the stress on those employers who now have to somehow coach, mentor, and model for these individuals on a daily basis sometimes when they’re already strapped for low funds and no personnel to address those particular needs," said Wing. "For whatever reason high school students are not going into the college of education, and identifying the root causes and addressing the root causes is what’s really going to be what will ultimately address that severe teacher shortage."
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction released the following statement:
“Today’s annual ASPAA survey results are startlingly, but not altogether shocking to the education community. Arizona classrooms have faced a critical teacher shortage for years. Like many issues of inequities and underfunding, COVID-19 has impacted our educator workforce. As schools and the state drastically altered our approach to education and teaching during COVID-19, some educators made the difficult decision to leave the classroom. I know this decision is deeply personal to each educator – and I hope that one day we can recruit them back to our schools through the efforts of our Educator Recruitment and Retention Team at the Arizona Department of Education. Despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the historical obstacles in Arizona, we remain committed to recruiting, hiring, and retaining educators. In the face of this public health crisis, there is much more to do to maintain our vital educator workforce.”