DeSantis wants cops, other first responders to help fill teaching vacancies

The governor suggests proposed legislation would be up for consideration in the upcoming legislative session that starts in March.
Ron DeSantis on May 16, 2022.
Ron DeSantis on May 16, 2022. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Aug. 16, 2022|Updated Aug. 16, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — After giving military veterans easier access to temporary teaching certificates, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday said he wants state legislators to expand that same option for law enforcement officers and other first responders next year.

The goal is to help Florida schools fill vacant teaching positions — which amount to nearly 9,000 in schools across the state, according to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Education. But the governor says the proposal also will support and incentivize law enforcement officers and other first responders, like paramedics and firefighters, to go into the teaching profession.

“Just like we do for veterans, we will do for the other first responders,” DeSantis said at a news conference in New Port Richey on Tuesday morning. “We will waive the exam fees for the state certification program.”

Participants must have a bachelor’s degree and those who sign up will be eligible for a $4,000 bonus. If they teach courses or subject matters that are experiencing “really acute shortages,” DeSantis said they will get another $1,000.

“We believe that the folks that have served our communities have an awful lot to offer,” DeSantis 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.”

Related: Pinellas teachers walk out of pay talks in anger, citing 3.25% raise offer

The initiative is part of a string of measures DeSantis has backed to support law enforcement officers in recent years. Last year, the governor promoted hiring bonuses for law enforcement officers, whom he urged to leave cities, like New York City, because he said Democratic leadership there did not support police officers.

DeSantis opened up the possibility that some of those police officers may take advantage of both programs, first working in a local police department in Florida and then moving into a teaching job.

The announcement comes as DeSantis faces some criticism for allowing veterans easier access to temporary teaching certificates. Some critics wonder what about the military prepares someone to instruct state academic standards or manage a room full of students.

“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 teachers union, according to The Gainesville Sun. “(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.”

DeSantis pushed back against this criticism on Tuesday.

“They said, ‘You can’t just have any old warm body in the classroom.’ Look, as a veteran, I will tell you the people that serve our country are not just some warm body,” DeSantis said.

Teaching with a ‘great twist’

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said at the news conference that it is “common sense” for the state to give incentives to law enforcement officers and first responders to go into teaching. He said they will be able to teach students through their lived experiences and perspective on the field.

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“We can teach a lot of subjects differently and with a great twist,” Nocco said. “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 added that law enforcement officers “understand that people come from different environments and different backgrounds.”

“We can empathize and we can help those students up so that they become leaders and they don’t feel disenfranchised in the system,” he said.

DeSantis addressed why he thinks more people are not seeking to go into the teaching profession.

In the 2019-20 school year, Florida colleges and universities graduated only about a third of the teachers needed to fill vacancies in state schools for the 2020-21 school year — or only about 3,380 teachers despite an estimated 9,080 vacancies, according to a report from the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

“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.”

DeSantis did not detail the proposed legislation, which he suggested would be up for consideration in the upcoming legislative session that starts in March.

But he said the criteria would be the same as for veterans, who currently need to have a bachelor’s degree or complete at least 60 hours of college credits — the equivalent of an associate’s degree — with a minimum grade-point average of 2.5, and pass a Florida subject area examination and a background check. Eligible veterans would need 48 months of active-duty military service with an honorable discharge or a medical separation. Those requirements were approved by the Florida Legislature earlier this year and signed into law by DeSantis.

The State Board of Education on Wednesday will consider a rule that outlines the qualifications and steps veterans need to take to obtain a five-year temporary teaching certificate without a bachelor’s degree. The meeting will be held at 9:45 a.m. at Pensacola State College.