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In the States: Teacher Vacancies, Canceled Classes, and Long-Term Substitutes

The “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.

Last month, the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada — the nation’s fifth-largest school district —was forced to cancel classes at two elementary schools due to teacher vacancies. Currently, Clark County has upwards of 1,100 teacher vacancies; however, that number nearly doubles when you account for positions being filled by substitute teachers, many of whom are often un or underqualified for the role.

Additional disruptions to the academic year occurred the Friday before Labor Day when another elementary school was forced to cancel classes due to a high volume of teachers calling in sick leading to staffing concerns. Similarly, a Las Vegas middle school reported combining classes due to the lack of personnel.

This trend is not unique to Clark County — as we know, school districts across the nation are grappling with teacher shortages. Last year, a Kansas State University education professor, Tuan Nguyen, set out with two colleagues to collect statewide data on teacher shortages. They counted more than 36,500 vacancies in 37 states and D.C. for the 2021-22 school year. Last month, they published updated data and found that teacher shortages had grown 35% among that group, to more than 49,000 vacancies.

In states that are seeing a decline in vacancies, there is significant concern over who is filling those positions. Jackson Green, the principal of Charles M. Sumner Education Campus in rural Maine, reported to the Washington Post that he started the year with just one vacancy. But that achievement was possible only because about 80 % of open teaching positions this year were filled with long-term substitute teachers after he was unable to find qualified educators. It is not a requirement for long-term substitutes in Maine to complete a teacher training program or have a college degree. Many of Green’s new hires reportedly lack both.