Biden wants to fix the nation’s teacher shortage. Educators say the problem is worsening.

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It wasn’t so long ago that Charles Prijatelj, the superintendent of the Altoona Area School District, was receiving up to 150 applications for elementary school teacher job openings.

In recent years, however, the number of applicants for each opening at his 7,400-student district in central Pennsylvania has dwindled to as little as three or four.

“There just aren’t enough teachers. There isn’t a big pool to pull from. Retirements are through the roof and people are leaving the profession even more than they were due to all the havoc from Covid,” Prijatelj told NBC News. “It’s dire."

The decline Prijatelj has seen in his district mirrors a national trend, according to federal data and analysis of that data. And as President Joe Biden pitches universal preschool and free community college as part of his plans to overhaul a coronavirus-ravaged economy, education experts see teachers as the linchpin. The $9 billion that Biden’s American Families Plan would set aside to address the country’s increasingly acute shortage — one that was worsened, though not created by, the pandemic — represents a critical investment for the White House to make good on many other parts of his domestic agenda, these experts said.

“If you think about it, what is education? It’s teaching. You have to have a teacher to do the teaching. You can’t get anything else done without a teacher in the classroom,” said Georgia Heyward, a research analyst at the Center for Reinventing Public Education, an education policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell. Not enough teachers for America’s students

Teacher demand exceeded supply for grades K-12 in the country’s public schools by more than 100,000 in 2019 for the first time ever, according to the Learning Policy Institute , a Washington-based education policy think tank that has extensively studied the causes and effects of the teacher shortage.

The projected number of retirements and pandemic- and burnout-related exits from the field in coming years far exceeds the declining number of students pursuing teaching preparation programs. Since 2010, the amount that demand for teachers has exceeded supply has approximately quadrupled, according to LPI research. More than 270,000 public school teachers are projected to leave the profession between 2016 and 2026, according to government data , and recent polling by a prominent national teachers union showed that nearly 1 in 3 teachers said Covid-19 has made them more likely to resign or retire early.