2.6 million US educators and staff quit public K-12 and higher education jobs during pandemic

Kindergarten teacher Karen Drolet, left, works with a student at Raices Dual Language Academy, a public school in Central Falls, R.I., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Around 2.6 million educators and staff have quit public education jobs in K-12 and higher education during the pandemic, monthly figures from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) show. Overall, there have been 4.8 million educators and staff total “separations” in public education during the pandemic which include layoffs (1.3 million), resignations (2.6 million), and other separations (771,000), including retirement, death, disability and transfers.

Significantly, data from the first four months of 2022 shows that the exodus from the public education industry is ongoing. In the first four months of this year, 734,000 total separations took place in the industry with the vast majority of those, 64 percent, or 474,000, being resignations.

In spite of this, the May 3 BLS Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary showed state and local government education job openings actually declined by 43,000, the second largest sector-decrease behind decreases in transportation, utilities and warehousing at 69,000, suggesting substantial job cuts by school districts nationwide.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona lied to educators and staff in a recent interview on Axios, when he said, “Competitive salaries, good working conditions, and teachers’ voices are at the table when we’re talking about reimagining education. We’re fighting for you. But we also recognize what you’ve done in the last two years, especially.”

One would think that Cardona lives in another world. Such staggering statistics, in reality, depict public education in a state of breakdown. Compounded stress, overwork, stagnant wages, sickness and death exacerbated by the over two and a half years of an ongoing pandemic, rising inflation and the threat of war have resulted in a continued mass exodus of US educators and school workers and have further accelerated attacks on public education.

In K-12 public schools, recent data from an Institute of Education Statistics (IES) study entitled The School Pulse Panel, which collects information on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic from a national sample of public schools, reveals the impact of the pandemic on public education.

Almost half, or 44 percent, of public schools report having full- or part-time teacher vacancies. Sixty-one percent of public schools said that they had an increased number of teacher and staff vacancies in January 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with only 22 percent saying that they did not. Further, 45 percent of schools noted that Special Education departments had the highest number of vacancies.

Another hallmark of the teacher shortage is the increasing tendency for teaching and non-teaching staff to be forced to work outside their intended duties. According to the IES survey, 57 percent of schools with one or more vacancies said they increasingly needed to use teachers for work outside their job descriptions.

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