83 Percent of Americans Worried About K-12 Public School Staff Shortages, New National Institute on Retirement Security Survey Finds

Retirement and Healthcare Benefits Viewed as Key Tools to Attract and Retain Public School Teachers and Staff

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 28, 2022 – A new national survey finds deep public concern about the K-12 public school workforce. Eighty-three percent of Americans express concerns about public school staff shortages, while 81 percent are worried about workforce burnout. Most Americans (89 percent) say K-12 public school staff deserve more respect, and they indicate that better pay (92 percent), healthcare benefits (89 percent) and pensions (86 percent) would help address workforce shortages.

These findings are contained in a new research report from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Americans’ Views of Public School Teachers and Personnel in the Wake of COVID-19.

Read the research here.

The challenges facing the K-12 workforce will be discussed at the NIRS 13th Annual Retirement Policy Conference on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The conference begins at 8:30 AM, and the education workforce panel discussion starts at 1:00 PM ET. Watch here.

“Recent years have been grueling for the K-12 workforce – from a rapid pivot to virtual learning, to heated debates on masks and vaccines, and now polarized disagreements on curriculum. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that staff are running for the exits,” said Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director.

“But even more troublesome is that the K-12 workforce problems go much deeper than the pandemic. Teachers were frustrated before the pandemic, and there have been fewer people going into the profession since the financial crisis created severe budget pressures. Now, we’re facing an urgent need to retain existing staff, draw experienced teachers back to schools, and figure out how to make the profession more enticing to young people. It’s a complicated problem without easy fixes, but a failure to develop meaningful solutions will have far reaching consequences for the nation’s well-being and competitiveness.”

“Our research finds that the public understands that teacher pay and benefits are key levers for addressing the K-12 workforce crisis,” Doonan explained. “Americans overwhelming agree that providing educators with financial and health security in the short and long term can help rebuild the education workforce.”

The report’s key findings are as follows:

  • Americans are deeply concerned about teachers and public school employees. Eighty-three percent are worried about staff shortages, 81 percent are concerned about staff burnout, and 81 percent are concerned that fewer people are going into education. This concern is high across party lines.
  • Americans value K-12 employees. Nearly all Americans (95 percent) say public school teachers and personnel are important to their community, while 89 percent say they deserve more respect. Eighty-eight percent say their pay should be increased.
  • Better pay and benefits, student loan forgiveness, and more school resources would help attract and retain teachers and school personnel. Ninety-two percent of respondents said better pay would help drive more people into the profession. Eighty-nine percent pointed to more generous healthcare benefits, while 86 percent said more generous pensions would help. Eighty-eight percent responded that more funding and resources for schools would be a key factor, while 75 percent indicated student loan forgiveness would be important.
  • Healthcare and retirement benefits are viewed as magnets for attracting and retaining K-12 school personnel, and these benefits should be funded and protected. Ninety-two percent of Americans indicated healthcare benefits are a good tool to attract and retain teachers and school personnel, while 91 percent agree pensions also help. Ninety-four percent of respondents said elected officials must ensure teacher and school personnel pension and healthcare benefits are sufficiently funded.

The survey was conducted by Greenwald Research in December 2021. A total of 1,005 individuals aged 25 and older completed the survey, and the final data were weighted by age, gender, and income to reflect U.S. demographics. The sample was selected using Dynata, an online sample provider.

This research was made possible thanks to a grant from NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community.

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers, and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at www.nirsonline.org. Follow NIRS on Twitter @NIRSonline.