Although K-12 teacher shortages worsened following the Covid-19 pandemic, teachers have been exiting the profession at an alarming rate since long before 2020 (García & Weiss, 2021).

When teachers leave their positions, they most often cite poor working conditions and dissatisfaction with school leadership as reasons for leaving (Johnson, 2006; Kraft et al., 2016; Ladd, 2011). Teacher turnover hampers student achievement, especially in schools located in areas of high poverty and schools serving students of color (Darling-Hammond et al., 2018; Kraft et al., 2016; Ronfeldt et al., 3013).

The southwestern United States in particular has long been plagued by high numbers of vacant teaching positions (Nguyen et al., 2022). In Nevada, more than 1,000 licensed teaching positions were unfilled at the beginning of the 2023 school year (Griffard & Ceja Rodriguez, 2023).

To help recruit and retain high-quality teachers, Nevada lawmakers allocated $250 million in state funds during the 2023 legislative biennium to provide salary increases for teachers working in traditional K-12 district public schools. However, the state did not appropriate funding to offer salary increases to teachers employed in K-12 public charter schools (Nevada, 2023, S.B. 231).

There are nearly 100 charter schools in operation across Nevada. These schools educate approximately 60,000 students or roughly one-third of all K-12 students in the state. More than two-thirds of Nevada charter schools are located in Southern Nevada (Nevada Department of Education, 2021).


  • This study explores how charter schools in Southern Nevada, the largest urban center in the state, navigate issues of teacher shortages and working conditions. 
  • A particular emphasis in this study is placed on the role of charter school leaders in addressing these issues. Specifically, the study endeavors to understand:
  • How charter school leaders are leading their schools through the teacher shortage crisis, 
  • How they leverage working conditions to improve teacher recruitment and retention, and 
  • How they compete with the benefits and opportunities offered to teachers working in traditional district public schools. 

Data & Methods

The study leveraged a qualitative research design. The intention behind using this design was to explore the issue of teachers shortages and working conditions from the perspectives of teachers and leaders working in the charter school sector in Southern Nevada. IRB approval was obtained to conduct a study involving human subjects. If permitted by their employer, participants also received compensation for their time.


The sample for the study consisted of charter school leaders (i.e., school principals, other school administrators, and organizational leaders) and teachers working in the 55 charter schools in Southern Nevada, as well as state-level leadership from the State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA), which is the arm of the Nevada Department of Education that authorizes and oversees state-sponsored charter schools. At the time of printing, 29 participants had completed the study: 10 school principals, six assistant principals, one instructional specialist, four organizational leaders, seven teachers, and one board member from the SPCSA.


Study participants took part in individual interviews conducted by members of the research team via Zoom or in-person. Interviews typically lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and followed a semi-structured approach, which uses conversational techniques to draw out how individuals make meaning of their unique experiences and perspectives (Spradley, 1979; Warren, 2001). During interviews, participants were asked to share how teacher shortages are showing up in their schools in terms of teacher retention, turnover, and vacancies. Participants were also asked to describe the role of leadership navigating teacher shortages and cultivating positive working conditions in their schools. Additionally, participants were asked to discuss how their schools compete with the new higher compensation offered to teachers working in traditional district public schools. While all interview protocols addressed these topics, questions were specifically worded according to a participant’s role in the charter sector.


Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Because the study is still underway, the researchers have thus far completed a preliminary analysis of the interview data using an a priori codebook that was developed based on the interview agenda and prior research that investigated issues of teacher shortages, working conditions, and the differences between traditional public schools and charter schools (e.g., Darling-Hammond et al., 2018; Ingersoll, 2001; Johnson, 2006; Kraft et al., 2016; Ladd, 2011; Ni, 2017).

Preliminary Findings

Overwhelmingly, participants reported that their schools––and Southern Nevada charter schools in general––were struggling less with teacher shortages than their traditional district counterparts. Although they acknowledged that it was more difficult for their schools to compete with the higher salaries offered by traditional district public schools, participants credited the working conditions and leadership at charter schools for fewer vacant teaching positions and lower rates of teacher turnover. The word cloud, shown right, illustrates the words that participants most commonly used to describe the working conditions at charter schools. 

Participants described a number of specific reasons why working conditions and leadership at charter schools were protective factors against teacher shortages. Several common themes, as determined through summative content analysis, are presented below. Illustrative quotes from interviews in support of each theme are included to highlight participants’ perspectives

Themes about Working Conditions and Leadership

Autonomy: Decisions about how to best serve students were made at the school level, with leadership intentionally soliciting input from teachers. Leaders worked to ensure that teachers were not burdened with non-instructional responsibilities.

Homegrown Talent: Charter schools often hired non-licensed teachers to staff classrooms. Many participants said their schools supported these teachers in obtaining their licenses and provided them with ample instructional coaching along the way to improve their practice. 

Support from Leaders: Participants shared that school leaders were open to new ideas from teachers. There was little bureaucracy or time lag when implementing new ideas. Leaders trusted teachers as professionals.

Innovative ideas: Several charter schools used creative strategies to cultivate positive working conditions, such as four-day work weeks, departmentalization in early grades, and financial incentives for writing grants or performing extra duties. 

Supporting Illustrative Quotes for Each Theme

“To improve shortages nationally, you’ve got to leave people alone and you also need to give the school leader a lot more autonomy. I’m letting teachers be their best version of themselves as an instructor…I work for them, they don’t work for me. That mindset shift is critical.”

“When there is a vacancy, there are not a lot of options. We typically go with inexperienced teachers that have potential. They have drive, they have the passion, they have the willingness their coachable. They have a positively oriented attitude and a growth mindset…Even our teacher assistants are willing to step up and get a substitute license and go through some training. It’s it’s not like we just have a plethora of teachers to to grab and fill.”

“I still have to hit the standards and do that, but I can do it in my way that works for me, and what I feel is best for my students. And so that’s the best thing about working [here].”

“At least one Friday a month is spent on taking care of yourself, however you need to. I always tell people that if you’ve been on your feet all day and your feet hurt, go get a pedicure. If you want to go home and take a nap before you pick up your little one from daycare, go do that. If you wanna stay and put up a new bulletin board because you’re tired of looking at your current one, great. If that’s what’s going to make you a stronger, better professional on Monday, do it.”

Discussion, Limitations & Next Steps

  • Although charter schools in Nevada did not benefit from salary increases as a buffer against teacher shortages, participants in our study reported that their charter schools leveraged other strategies to protect against teacher shortages, especially cultivating positive working conditions.
  • Participation in the study was voluntary. It is possible that their experiences are not representative of all charter school leaders and teachers in Southern Nevada. Moreover, as a qualitative study focusing on a specific population in a specific locale, we cannot generalize the findings beyond this context.
  • We are continuing data collection to develop a more thorough understanding of charter school educators’ experiences in the current Southern Nevada educational ecosystem.

Research Team

Deanna Hull

A-ARL 3.0 Research Fellow

Lesly Zecena

NITEP Research Fellow

Jennifer Sabelko

PPP 3.0 Research Fellow

Dr. Megan Rauch Griffard

Principal Investigator

Kaylie Kurland


This research was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Nevada Department of Education to support the Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation (NITEP), the Nevada Institute on Educator Preparation, Retention, & Research (NIEPRR), and the Nevada Educator Preparation Institute & Collective (NV-EPIC).