AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin In this June 1, 2020 file photo, Kristina Washington, special education staff member at Desert Heights Preparatory Academy, walks past a series of desks and chairs at the school in Phoenix, returning to her classroom for only the second time since the coronavirus outbreak closed schools.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

One in four teaching positions in Arizona remain unfilled as a yearslong teacher shortage continues throughout the state.

The Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association (ASPAA) released a survey last week that found 25.9% of vacant teacher positions in Arizona remain unfilled, while more than half of the vacancies are filled by teachers who don’t meet certification requirements.

That’s fewer vacancies than last year, but more than in 2019, when 21% of teacher positions were vacant.

The ASPAA has surveyed school districts and charter schools for six consecutive years to assess vacant teacher positions throughout the state. This year’s report surveyed 145 Arizona school districts and charter schools.

The new report comes as teachers have left the profession or been laid off amid the coronavirus pandemic.

From the start of the school year through Sept. 10, 730 teachers severed employment with their schools, according to the survey. Roughly 78% of the losses were certified teachers.

This level of teacher vacancies at this point in the school year has held steady since 2016, but schools are now seeing a lack of candidates to replace the outgoing teachers, according to ASPAA President Jenna Moffit.

“Even last year or in years before, if someone did quit, we could find somebody to come in as a substitute, somebody to come in as a certified teacher,” Moffit said. “Right now it is so hard to find anyone that is a viable candidate…to fill that vacancy.”

Special education classrooms have been disproportionately impacted by the shortage, but general education classrooms, including in Moffit’s own Deer Valley Unified School District in north Phoenix, are also starting to see the impact of shortages, she said.

“For us to struggle to find teachers, elementary teachers, to go into a general education classroom is not something that we are used to,” Moffit said.

‘Severity of Teacher Shortage Must Be Addressed’

Arizona consistently ranks near the bottom of state rankings for education funding. A state audit found last year that Arizona school districts spent about $3,100 less per pupil than the national average, with a higher percentage of funds going toward things like food and transportation, with less money for instruction and administration.

Funding and teacher pay is a key factor that educators point to before they leave the profession, according to Moffit.

“The severity of the teacher shortage must be addressed,” the ASPAA said in a press release last week. “Arizona’s leaders must make a collective effort to ensure the recruitment and retention of effective teachers through increased funding.”

In November, voters approved Proposition 208, a tax hike on wealthy Arizonans that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars for schools, but that money will not be available for districts to use until 2022.

Meanwhile, a tax cut that would primarily benefit the state’s top earners was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year, despite education advocates saying it would undermine Prop. 208.

Ducey lauded the tax cut as giving money back to taxpayers, and he has pointed to millions in new investments for things like special education services and access to school transportation.

But Arizona parents, students, and educators gathered last month outside the State Capitol to turn in hundreds of thousands of signatures that would give Arizona residents a chance to vote on the tax cut.

Educators, students, and community members said they were tired of having to mobilize and gather signatures in order to make sure Arizona public schools were adequately funded.

“Growing up, we’re always told to invest in our education,” said Yazmin Castro, a freshman at Apollo High School in Glendale. “If my education is my future, why isn’t anyone investing in it?”