Jan 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Public schools staffing is on the brink of collapse

Illustration of hand writing and crossing out open and closed on a chalkboard
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The public school system is hanging by a thread as staff are stressed, burned out and thinking of quitting more than ever before.

Why it matters: Staffing shortages are leading school districts to look for "bodies in a room to babysit kids" as last-ditch efforts to keep their doors open, one education researcher told Axios.

Driving the news: Districts in Texas, Idaho and Colorado are asking parents to fill in as substitute teachers, while officials in New Mexico asked the state's National Guard to step in.

  • In Kansas, an emergency declaration eliminated college credit hours as a requirement for substitute teachers.

Staffing shortages are made worse by a waning substitute teacher force, many of whom left the profession during the pandemic.

  • "Substitute teaching is not a profession for the faint of heart," said Julia Kaufman, an education policy researcher at RAND Corporation.
  • Plus, low pay, minimal benefits and the overall view of substitute teachers contribute to the sub shortages, Myrtle Washington, a veteran substitute teacher in D.C. Public Schools, said.
  • "A lot of substitute teachers did not think it was worth it, risking their lives, in this city, for $15 an hour."

The big picture: Principals are stressed, too. "This has been one of the toughest years for educators ever," one principal said.

  • "Regardless of how we categorized principals, about 75% to almost 90% of principals ... reported that they experienced frequent job-related stress," according to a RAND Corporation report out this week.

Between the lines: The stress levels among female principals and principals of color were especially stark.

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