In an attempt to fill teaching vacancies across the state, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke about a plan to open a fast track for law enforcement officers to enter the teaching profession.
The governor proposed legislation to incentivize law enforcement officers to become teachers by making it easier to obtain temporary teaching certificates while also offering bonuses for new teachers and waiving certification exam fees.
According to data from the Florida Department of Education, schools across the state have recorded a total of 9,000 teaching position vacancies.
The move comes after DeSantis recently eased access to temporary (five-year) teaching certificates for military veterans.
Now, he is hoping to do the same for law enforcement officers and first responders such as paramedics and firefighters.
“Just like we do for veterans, we will do for the other first responders,” DeSantis said at a recent press conference. “We will waive the exam fees for the state certification program.”
In addition to waiving fees for exams, the bill will offer $4,000 signing bonuses for new teachers who sign up for the program. For those who teach subjects that are experiencing “really acute shortages,” participants can receive an extra $1,000.
Participants still require a bachelor’s degree or at least 60 college credits — the equivalent of an associate’s degree — to be eligible for the program.
To obtain a temporary teaching certificate, participants will need to pass a Florida area subject exam and a background check.
“We believe that the folks that have served our communities have an awful lot to offer,” the Florida governor said. “We have people who have served 20 years in law enforcement, who have retired, and some of them are looking for the next chapter in their life.”
The bill will be up for consideration at next year’s legislative session.
The initiative is one of the latest efforts from DeSantis and his administration to support law enforcement officers.
Earlier this year, DeSantis offered hiring bonuses and other benefits to officers from other states who decided to move to Florida.
The announcement comes after criticism of the governor’s previous decision to assist ex-military personnel to join the teaching profession.
Critics of the initiative did not see how military experience could help one teach in an academic setting.
“There are many people who have gone through many hoops and hurdles to obtain a proper teaching certificate,” said Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County teacher’s union. “(Educators) are very dismayed that now someone with just a high school education can pass the test and can easily get a five-year temporary certificate.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco supported the measure, saying it was “common sense” to offer incentives for law enforcement to enter the teaching profession given their vast career experience.
We can teach a lot of subjects differently and with a great twist. From math, our economic detectives, they can talk a lot about how math is used. From psychology, health care, mental health issues, we have firsthand experience. We’ve been there and done that,” Nocco explained.
Nocco also said that law enforcement officers can empathize with students from different backgrounds so “they don’t feel disenfranchised in the system.”
According to a report from the Florida Education Association, the number of teachers who graduated from universities in the 2020-21 school year was enough to fill just a third of the overall vacancies. A total of 3,380 teachers were certified, while there are an estimated 9,080 vacancies.
As for why there are fewer teachers, DeSantis said schools are not teaching effectively.
“I don’t think these schools have proven to be effective,” DeSantis said. “I think it has been taken over by ideology, and I think that is a turnoff for many people. … We are saying teaching is not about learning quote, unquote education in college, it’s really about having proficiency in subjects and then learning on the ground about how to do it.”
The State Board of Education said they plan to sketch out the qualifications and steps veterans need to take to obtain a five-year temporary teaching certificate without a bachelor’s degree.