Figures collected by the Local Government Association suggest there could be more than 27,000 vacancies, with some governing bodies under by up to a quarter.
The figures - based on returns from 82 of the 172 education authorities in England and Wales - point to vacancy rates of 8 per cent in secondary schools, and 9 per cent in primaries.
The single biggest shortfall is for co-opted members - those selected by existing governors.
That was music to the ears of members of the LGA's education executive, who were to meet today to discuss the report. They have been told for years that their representatives - the local authority governors - are the hardest to find. However, the survey seems to contradict that.
However, it does show that the vast majority of councils (88 per cent) still take political party affiliation into account in some way when choosing their governors.
Graham Lane, the LGA's education chairman, said he was keen for councils to do more work on the use of their appointees. His own authority, Newham in east London, has helped place younger governors and more people from ethnic minorities on governing bodies by advertising LEA vacancies.
He said more councils are dropping political affiliation as a requirement for their governors.
But he was concerned that the overall vacancy rate would mean some schools will struggle to fulfil statutory responsibilities.
"It's worrying because there are rules about governors' meetings being quorate. In some governing bodies, they can't get the three-quarters needed to co-opt new members," he said.
Chris Gale, chairwoman of the National Governors' Council, was upbeat about the figures overall, saying they were not as high as she would have expected.
But she, too, was concerned that the rate might be disguising the fact that some schools, probably in deprived areas, are in trouble. She said she knew of one school struggling to get together a three-strong panel on exclusions.
The LGA survey also found:
Barely two in five councils monitor the ethnic composition of governing bodies, and even fewer check on gender and disability.
Nearly half of LEAs monitor governor attendance.
Most (82 per cent) have been approached to act as go-betweens for headteachers and governors.