Pandemic Worsens School Staffing Shortages

October 15, 2021 • Chau Tran

Pandemic Worsens School Staffing Shortages

School districts across Texas are experiencing increased staffing shortages in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s been over a year and a half since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that time, two new school years have begun, and the impact of the pandemic continues. Public school staffing shortages, which have long plagued the Texas education landscape, have gotten worse. The demands of in-person classrooms, as well as virtual learning, increased workloads, school politics around masks and vaccines, and health concerns are burning out teachers and other education support roles.

Teacher shortages

Houston ISD had over 700 job vacancies during the summer. Although that number was reduced to just over 300 openings by the time this school year started, the number was still much higher than previous years in which there were typically less than 100 vacancies. Notably, Houston ISD leaders attribute this unusually high number of vacancies to the pandemic, salary, and family matters.

Two-thirds of survey respondents to Frontline Education’s nationwide survey reported a teacher shortage this year, the highest ratio since their first teacher shortage survey launched in 2015. Three major obstacles were reported among the 1,200 school and district leader respondents:

  • Not enough fully qualified applicants
  • Insufficient salary and/or benefits compared to other careers
  • Fewer graduates in education

Although the COVID-19 pandemic did not make the top of this survey’s list for staffing shortage factors, the wave of challenges Coronavirus has flung at communities has made staffing even more of a challenge for public schools. Veteran teachers and other education employees have a legitimate fear for their lives in returning to work in the public school setting considering the 52,000 positive COVID-19 cases reported among students enrolled in Texas schools as of August 29, 2021.

Certification trends

In Texas, newly certified teachers have decreased in number from 24,435 in 2014–2015 to 17,734 in 2019–2020, down 27 percent per the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The National Education Association administered a survey to 2,690 of their members in June 2021, and 32 percent of respondents reported the pandemic prompted them to leave the profession earlier than intended.

Other shortages

The Houston Chronicle reports Katy ISD had over 500 job openings to fill earlier this month, Goose Creek CISD had 279 jobs to fill, and Fort Bend ISD needed to fill 272 positions. Among these vacancies are teachers, bus drivers, child nutrition workers, and custodians. Over the summer, Killeen ISD was also in desperate need of additional staff such as paraprofessionals, custodians, child nutrition workers, bus drivers, and more than 200 teachers, and they attribute their shortage to the pandemic.

Even the pool of substitute teachers in Texas has dwindled over the past year and a half. Many substitute teachers are retired teachers, but the workload and health concerns in the current pandemic climate are deterring many from returning to the classroom.

Retention is the key

Public school professionals and leaders should focus on retention to combat shortages due to COVID-19 or other reasons. The HRX article Employee Retention and COVID-19 offers suggestions to help limit the effects of the pandemic on employees and tips to keep employees happy, healthy, and at school.


Chau Tran is a senior data analyst at TASB HR Services. Send Chau an email at chau.tran@tasb.org.


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Tagged: COVID-19, Retention, Staffing, "Teacher shortage"