PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – The largest labor union in the U.S. is sounding the alarm on a nationwide teacher shortage, this comes as districts across the country face challenges with various staffing needs.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, leadership with the National Education Association (NEA) said experts predicted yearly shortfalls of more than 100,000 teachers.

NEA president Becky Pringle said the staffing shortages are the result of low teacher pay, high stress, and crumbling schools.

“There are literally not enough staff to keep schools open. This is the tragic consequence of decades spent chronically underfunding education and shortchanging students,” Pringle said.

Pringle said the pandemic has only made the situation direr.

“The burden of virtual teaching, technical difficulties, the loss of loved ones, the mental health challenges, and most pressing, the struggle to keep our students and ourselves safe,” Pringle said.

In the short term, Pringle said there must be investments in PPE for schools. She also said emergency-leave is necessary for staff who test positive or are exposed to COVID-19.

She added that there must also be long-term solutions to address the lack of qualified educators.

“We need to attract a diverse group of highly qualified people into our professions and retain them by improving work conditions and paying them enough to support their own families,” Pringle said.