TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers have set aside nearly half a billion dollars in preparation for the potential return of tens of thousands of students who never showed up for school in the first year of the pandemic, but finding teachers for them is expected to be a challenge.
Florida’s economists estimate more than 87,000 students who were expected didn’t show for classes last fall.
School districts have worked to find them.
“Parents who were going to put their children in kindergarten this school year, may have chosen to just wait a year,” said Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Andrea Messina.
Those absent students have been given a nickname.
“They’re calling them redshirt kindergartners. I don’t know if you have heard that term, and so what we’re expecting is that in the fall, we’re going to see a much larger kindergarten class than we would have seen heretofore,” said Messina.
To handle the expected influx this year, state lawmakers put more than $400 million in the budget should they show.
But the Florida Education Association warns the influx will make an already short-staffing problem worse.
“We expect not only a massive teacher shortage but a bus driver shortage, cafeteria worker shortage, paraprofessional shortage throughout our schools,” said FEA President Andrew Spar.
School districts are going to face the challenges resulting from the new and missing students showing up for the next decade.
“So, schools are going to have to staff up at the kindergarten level, but next year and the year after, it will be the first-grade level, the second-grade level,” said Messina.
On the upside, two years of cash to increase starting teachers’ salaries makes freshmen Florida teachers the highest paid in the nation, but pay for veteran teachers only moved up one notch from 49th to 48th nationally.
On top of the kids who stayed home last year, more than 900 people a day are moving to Florida, adding even more first-time students.