Gov. DeSantis touts 3 new plans aimed at addressing statewide teacher shortage

The head of the state teachers union said the proposals are “too little, too late.”

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis announced three new initiatives Tuesday morning aimed at addressing the state’s ongoing teacher shortage.

It’s an issue in Northeast Florida as there were still hundreds of vacancies across our area as the new school year kicked off.

Last month, Gov. DeSantis announced a plan to recruit military veterans to the classroom, now there’s a new proposal to offer up to a $5,000 bonus to retired law enforcement, paramedics and firefighters to help solve the teacher shortage. There were more than 8,000 vacancies to start the school year in the state, according to the Florida Education Association.

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“We are proposing first, a governor’s recruitment program focusing on our heroes. So in addition to recruiting retired military veterans, we also want to include first responders, law enforcement, EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, who have their bachelor’s degree to become teachers and bring their leadership and wisdom into the classroom,” DeSantis said while speaking at a New Port Richey high school.

DeSantis wants to waive teacher exam fees and give up to a $5,000 bonus to those first responders who are eligible.

Last month, DeSantis unveiled another program that will allow military veterans without a bachelor’s degree to become teachers with a temporary certificate if they have 60 college credit hours and have four years or more of active duty. The veterans program launched July 1, and 208 people had applied as of Tuesday, DeSantis’ press secretary, Bryan Griffin, told The News Service of Florida.

“We believe that the folks that have served our communities have an awful lot to offer. And we’ve got people that have served, you know, 20 years in law enforcement, they retire and some of them are looking for kind of the next chapter in their life,” DeSantis said.

Also proposed is a teacher apprenticeship program for those with their A.A. degrees. The apprentice would study under a teacher for two years while getting paid and getting their degree and the mentor would get a $4,000 bonus.

“Spending time in a classroom, being taught from a professor is fine, but spending time in the classroom where you are watching somebody that has experience and you have hands-on experience, that is really what’s going to make...So we believe in doing and we believe in learning by doing and this is going to be a great program,” DeSantis added.

DeSantis also proposed a new scholarship program to help current high school teachers earn their master’s degrees which will allow them to teach dual enrollment, college credit courses.

The head of the state’s largest teachers union said it’s too little, too late. Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, said DeSantis has had four years to address the issue but there was still a mass exodus on his watch.

“He’s talking about bonuses again, which is our governor’s favorite thing to talk about bonuses rather than a real investment,” said Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association. “He’s talking about asking teachers, experienced teachers who he maligns every day, to become mentors, yet he doesn’t talk about taking some stuff off their plate. They are overwhelmed. They are overworked. This is a political plan, this is not a sustainable plan that truly gets at the teacher and staff shortage in real solutions.”

Spar said DeSantis could have eliminated fees for anyone becoming a teacher, as opposed to just picking and choosing certain people.

And while Florida’s average starting teacher pay increased to 16th in the nation at $48,5000 thanks to recent initiatives, it still ranked 48th in overall average salary heading into this school year, according to a report from Florida Phoenix.

“We have teachers with 15, 20, 25 years of experience, literally making less money than their colleagues did, or counterparts did 10 or 15 years ago. So I think these are missed opportunities by the governor.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, released a statement Tuesday accusing DeSantis of trying to lower standards for teaching certificates and positions.

“Let me be clear: We should not be lowering the bar for teachers in Florida,” Fried said. “Instead of paying teachers what they’re worth and agreeing to stop politicizing their jobs, DeSantis is trying to let Floridians with no experience and minimal training teach our kids.”

None of the proposals outlined by DeSantis on Tuesday will have an effect this school year. The plans will be introduced during the next legislative session and put to a vote.

The 2023 regular legislative session is scheduled to start on March 7.

Here are more details about the proposed programs from DeSantis’ office:

Bonuses for Retired Military Veterans and Retired First Responders

Provides one-time bonuses to retired military veterans and retired first responders who commit to joining the teaching profession for two years as a full-time classroom teacher.

Recipients would also be eligible for an additional bonus, beyond the initial signing bonus, if they teach in a Florida Department of Education identified critical teacher shortage.

This initiative would also expand waiver of certification exam fees to all retired first responders.

Teacher Apprenticeship Temporary Certification Pathway

Establishes an additional pathway to becoming an educator. It will be the 13th different teaching pathway offered in Florida.

Applicants must have an associate’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, a 3.0 cumulative grade point average, and a successful passage of a background check.

Once receiving a temporary certificate, the apprentice will spend the first two years in the classroom of a mentor teacher using team teaching requirements to further develop pedagogy skills. This component would fulfill the on-the-job training component of the apprenticeship and its associated standards, allowing individuals to earn a paycheck while working toward their bachelor’s degree.

Mentor teachers must have at least seven years of teaching experience and highly effective ratings on VAM scores or district performance reviews.

These mentor teachers will be eligible for a bonus payable half after the first successful year of the apprenticeship and half after the second year.

Dual Enrollment Educator Scholarship Program

Establishes opportunities for K-12 teachers to receive scholarship funds towards their master’s degree to cover the full cost of tuition and fees and includes a book stipend each semester.

Once educators earn their master’s degree, they will be able to provide dual enrollment coursework directly to students on a high school campus, increasing the availability of access to dual enrollment in Florida’s high schools, particularly in low-moderate income and rural schools.

Applicants must be accepted into, or currently enrolled in, an approved graduate program in a subject in their area of certification and complete their graduate degree within three years of the award.

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Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.