Over 3,500 Unfilled Positions: The Impact of the Teacher Shortage in Virginia

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

By Amie Knowles

July 26, 2023

As Virginia faces a severe teacher shortage, the PREP Act aims to address workforce diversity and quality enhancement.

Many of us have experienced working at a place that was short on help at one time or another. As we all know, it can be tough to manage all the things on your plate when you’re helping out until a new employee is hired.

Now imagine if your job included overseeing a bunch of small humans in one room, more than you typically do, in fact. And we’re not talking about just keeping them safe—what if your job was ensuring those children receive a quality education? 

Did your stress levels increase slightly? 

In Virginia, there were more than 3,500 unfilled teaching positions in the 2022-23 school year. Nearly half of those (1,307) vacancies were for pre-K through sixth grade teachers. The next-highest vacancy area was for special education teachers, with more than 730 unfilled slots.

The shortage was especially apparent in select schools throughout the commonwealth, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. Nine Virginia schools had a greater than 20% teacher vacancy for the 2022-23 school year. 

The schools with the highest teacher vacancies in Virginia in 2022-23 were:

  • Southampton Middle in Southampton County—45.7% 
  • Douglass Park Elementary in Portsmouth—40%
  • Cradock Elementary in Portsmouth—34.9%

Areas including Chesterfield County, Norfolk, Prince William County, and Spotsylvania County also had schools which ranked within the top 10 for teacher shortages. 

An Understaffed Workforce

Issues that come with having a smaller-than-ideal workforce often snowball, becoming a larger problem than “just” having a lack of employees.

According to WorkFit, there are three major negative effects that come with being short-staffed:

  • Understaffing leads to a high-stress workplace
  • Understaffing causes higher employee turnover
  • Understaffing increases risk of accidents

Burnout and the staffing crisis were two of the major contributing factors to the teacher shortage last year, according to an article by The Hill. Other issues, noted by Elevate K-12, highlighted feelings of underappreciation, a high workload, and unrealistic pressures and expectations. 

How the PREP Act Could Help 

To combat teacher vacancies, Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, recently reintroduced the PREP Act, which stands for “Preparing and Retaining Education Professionals.”

If passed, the bill would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to provide for teacher and school leader quality enhancement, as well as enhance institutional aid. 

The act also seeks to increase the diversity of the teacher and school leader workforce. The “Percentage Distribution of Public School Teachers, by Race/Ethnicity and State: 2020–21,” published by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that nearly 82% of Virginia’s teacher workforce was white. Less than 10% of educators in the commonwealth were Black, just over 4% were Hispanic, and less than 2% were Asian.

The PREP Act aims to develop a diverse workforce, with a goal of giving students the educational opportunities needed to be successful in college and career pursuits.  

“Our nation’s educators are critical to ensuring students’ success, which is why I’m committed to finding solutions to address teacher and principal shortages in Virginia and across the country,” Kaine said in a media statement. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan bill to expand teacher training programs and help boost diversity among the teacher workforce.”

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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