TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A Senate bill that would require school districts to identify shortages of school employees such as bus drivers and food service workers and take steps to fill vacant positions was approved in its first committee hearing Tuesday.

The Senate Education Committee advanced the measure (SB 1576) in a unanimous vote on Tuesday.

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Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat who sponsored the bill, said a scarcity of school staff in Florida isn’t a new phenomenon.

“These individuals work every day to support our classroom teachers and other instructional personnel with student learning. Florida was already facing a shortage prior to COVID, but the pandemic has exacerbated it,” Polsky said.

There were 2,457 fewer education support staff working in public schools during the 2020-21 school year compared to the previous year, according to a Senate staff analysis of the bill. School support staff also includes positions such as janitors, teacher aides, secretaries, and clerical workers.

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Under the proposal, school district superintendents would be tasked with making a list of “critical employment shortages,” which the legislation defines as support-staff positions with a vacancy rate of more than 20 percent. Staffing deficiencies of paraprofessionals, or school employees who work under direct supervision of instructional staff, also would have to be documented.

Once staffing shortages are identified, the bill would require districts to “fund incentives that will help retain and recruit personnel for critical shortages or hard to staff positions or worksites in support staff positions as appropriated” by the state Legislature.

Superintendents would be required to report to the Senate president and House speaker how such funds were used.

A similar House proposal (HB 1017) is awaiting committee action.

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CBSMiami.com Team