Almost half, or 44%, of public schools report having full- or part-time teacher vacancies, according to a national survey of 670 public schools conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). More than half of schools (57%) with one or more vacancies said they increasingly needed to use teachers for work beyond their job descriptions.

Schools with at least one vacancy also said special education had the highest teaching vacancies (45%), followed by general elementary teaching positions (31%) and substitute teachers (20%).

Of public schools that reported at least one vacancy, 61% cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a cause of increased teaching and non-teaching staff vacancies. The leading cause of vacancies for 51% of schools was resignation rather than retirement.

The survey is the first of its kind from the U.S. Education Department since the start of the pandemic, and confirms predictions from researchers and anecdotal evidence from administrators of a mass exodus of teachers from their jobs as a result of the health crisis, according to a report by K-12 Dive.

To circumvent the shortages, schools in some cases have had to use more teaching and non-teaching staff outside of their intended duties, increase class sizes, share teachers and staff among schools, and limit student transportation.

Shortages extend beyond the classroom. The NCES survey, for example, shows 49% of public schools reporting at least one non-teaching staff vacancy as of January 2022, including custodial, nutrition and transportation staff.

To address the various shortages, states like New Mexico and Massachusetts resorted to using the National Guard to fill gaps in classrooms and on school buses.

In a separate survey conducted and released in late 2021 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, 68% of principals reported being concerned about the teacher shortage in the 2021-22 school year and about teacher burnout.

Principals also listed “providing guidance and mental health support” to teachers and staff as one of the top three challenges during the pandemic.

Late last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona urged schools to consider short-term and long-term investments to curb teacher shortages, including increasing teacher wages, supporting teachers’ well-being and providing enough substitutes.

Cardona reiterated his support for districts using American Rescue Plan funds to address teaching shortages in response to the new NCES data. He also suggested hiring tutors, school counselors, classroom aides and other staff to help prevent burnout.

Some school finance experts, however, have warned against using short-term funds for long-term teaching positions. Long-term commitments like pay raises and financing new positions, they say, could be difficult to maintain once federal relief funding dries up.