COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) released its annual Educator Supply and Demand report Thursday morning.

The new data shows the state’s teacher shortage is worsening, according to educator groups.

The new report highlights the reported number of vacant educator positions in the state at the start of this school year by school districts. CERRA says 1,474 vacant positions were reported. A 39% increase compared to the 1,063 reported at the start of last school year.

Educator groups in the state including the Palmetto State Teachers Association (PSTA) and South Carolina Education Association (SCEA) are comparing the current situation to a ‘five-alarm fire’.

PSTA Director of Governmental Affairs Patrick Kelly said, “It’s time for this to become the highest education policy priority in our state. That includes local board leaders and state elected officials.”

This increase in vacancies was reported despite there being 500 fewer educator positions in the state CERRA says.

Kelly said, “Behind every vacancy are hundreds, if not thousands, of students and families in this state that are being denied access to the kind of educational experience they need and deserve.”

CERRA’s report also shows more than 8,000 educators left their school districts ahead of the fall. A 20% increase compared to last year. About 2,000 educators transferred to another school district in the state and some of the others either left the profession altogether or retired.

SCEA President Sherry East said policymakers need to continue to address working conditions in the state’s classrooms.

Earlier this year, lawmakers raised the salary floor for teachers to $40,000. They also approved a law that guaranteed daily planning time for some teachers in the state.

East said parents and the state should be worried about the long-term impacts of students not having a highly qualified teacher in front of them. “Our children can’t wait. Is this the third year they went without a certified teacher in the classroom? The fourth year even?”

According to East, there was one bright spot in the report. CERRA found 192 educators returned to the profession after a year or more away from the classroom.

To read the full report click or tap here.