Arizona teacher shortage streak persists, thousands of classrooms understaffed
Arizona classrooms continue to be understaffed, with more than 6,000 of them missing a qualified teacher.
The latest survey from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association confirmed that the state’s teacher shortage has now entered its eighth year. The association analyzed 131 school districts and charter schools across Arizona and found that, as of September — roughly a month into the school year — at least 2,229 teaching posts remain vacant and another 3,997 are occupied by teachers who aren’t fully credentialed.
“Arizona children deserve the best teachers and a stable workforce,” ASPAA wrote in a statement accompanying the survey. “The shortage of educators directly impacts the quality of education students receive. Larger class sizes, reduced individualized attention, and limited extracurricular opportunities are just a few of the consequences students face as a result of this crisis.”
The Grand Canyon State has long been among the worst states for teachers. According to ASPAA, at least a quarter of teaching positions have been vacant in schools across Arizona well into the first month of the academic year since 2016. And teaching conditions are hardly attractive enough to convince out of state applicants.
Arizona ranks 32nd in the nation for teacher pay, with an average salary of $56,775 — nearly $10,000 less than the national average. Class sizes, too, are dismal: A 2021 survey estimated that the average classroom size in Arizona was 23.5 at the time, outstripping the national average of 16.
Not only is Arizona an unlikely prospect for out of state applicants or new graduates, but current teachers are being pushed away. Since the start of the current school year, ASPAA noted that 583 teachers severed their own employment, either by resigning, not reporting to work at all or abandoning their posts. In 2021, the turnover rate for teachers in Arizona was at 19% — more than double the national average of 8% during the same year.
ASPAA urged state leaders to take action, noting that, despite recent investments, the outlook for education in Arizona remains dire.
“The severity of the teacher shortage must be addressed,” the organization wrote. “Arizona’s leaders must make a collective effort to ensure the recruitment and retention of effective teachers through increased funding. A highly educated and skilled workforce are cornerstones of a growing and thriving economy.”
The past few years have seen record investments in K-12 spending, but public education advocates maintain that more is needed. A bipartisan budget last year added $900 million in new K-12 funding, and this year the legislature approved a one-time injection of $300 million. Unfortunately, that still falls short of addressing the nearly $4.5 billion dollar deficit Arizona schools face every year when compared to K-12 funding in the rest of the country.
Lawmakers have attempted to stem the hemorrhage of teachers by approving workarounds like enabling substitutes to work beyond the 120-day limit until a permanent teacher can be found and allowing student teachers still earning a degree to take on classes.
But those efforts don’t resolve the problem, and critical support staff roles — which cannot be taken on by placeholders — remain increasingly difficult to fill. As many as 1,402 special education paraprofessional positions are vacant, leaving thousands of special needs students in the lurch.
Marisol Garcia, president of the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, slammed GOP lawmakers — who hold a majority in the legislature — for working harder to help private school students by passing universal school vouchers instead of trying to fully fund public schools.
“Right now, tens of thousands of Arizona kids lack a fully qualified educator,” she said, in an emailed statement. “The reason is simple: the extremist majority in our legislature has insisted on diverting money away from schools and students and towards vouchers, tax cuts for the wealthy and other programs that benefit the rich and well-connected.”
Arizona Republicans spearheaded a universal expansion of the state’s private school voucher program last year, known as Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, that is projected to cost the state as much as $900 million in 2024. The expansion was initially touted as just a $65 million investment, and despite the ballooning cost, Republicans are vehemently opposed to scaling the program back or implementing any accountability measures to ensure the students who receive the vouchers are receiving a quality education.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the Arizona Department of Education is analyzing the causes behind the teacher shortage as well as solutions and will present its findings to the public upon completion.