August has meant back to school for Deanna Burton for the past six years, but not this year.
She packed up her classroom in June after resigning her position as a teacher in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
"Some of the students I haven’t told that I was leaving just because I’m not really sure how they’ll receive it," Barton said. “With the kids and the teachers, it’s just like a family. So, I’m going to miss them all for sure."
Barton is turning her part-time job as an art therapist into a full time business.
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She says one of the reasons she’s leaving teaching is the pay.
"Sometime you feel like you’re living paycheck to paycheck," she said. "I know many teachers like me have had to work second, sometimes third jobs, just to make sure bills are paid."
Nationwide, about eight percent of teachers leave the classroom each year, according the National Center for Education Statistics.
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In South Florida including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school districts, 1,081 teachers have left the district after teaching just one year since 2015.
Pre-K teacher Nicole Lischner says it’s tough watching talented new teachers leave because of pay. The teacher, who is in her fourth year, understands the struggle.
"I wouldn’t be able to live on my own if it weren’t for my parents," she said. "They help me out with my car payments. If I didn’t have that support then there’s no way I could be living on my own."
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Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade, understands.
"We don’t make enough money to live in the community that we teach in and that’s a shame," she said. "I certainly knew I wasn’t going to become rich being a teacher but I also did not expect to be poor being a teacher."
Hernandez-Mats says high turnover should concern parents.
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"We know just through research that teachers become expert teachers after seven years in the classroom," she said. "So you’re getting a lot of novice teachers that don’t necessarily have the content knowledge and the skill set that those experienced, seasoned teachers have."
Florida ranks 40th in the country for annual average salaries when you factor in the cost of living, according to EdBuild, a non-profit that tracks public school funding.
Teachers in Miami-Dade earn among the highest median salaries in the state at $46,176. But the high cost of living here makes their money not go as far. When you compare Miami-Dade and Dixie County, teacher salaries in Miami-Dade are 17 percent higher. Dixie County’s median salary is $39,257. But the median price of a home in Miami-Dade is 340 percent higher.
A shortage of teachers is a problem everywhere. Florida’s Department of Education reported the state’s districts had more than 1,700 teacher vacancies for the first day of school last year.
It makes districts compete to lure teachers.
“We actually get a lot of hits in the northeast from people that are ready to leave the winter weather,” said Ana Flores who recruits teachers for Miami-Dade County Schools. “Miami definitely has a certain appeal.”
Miami-Dade plans to ask voters to approve more money for teachers on the November ballot. Broward County Schools have a similar request of taxpayers on the ballot for the August 28 primary.
Another issue making the teacher shortage worse is that fewer college students are pursuing education degrees.
The Learning Policy Institute reports the number of students pursuing education as a degree has dropped 35 percent.
That has led to school districts to recruit college graduates with degrees in other areas like science. Those new hires are given a temporary teaching certificate and they have three years to earn their full certification.