On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis took a crisis involving teachers and missed the point. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with offering incentives for first responders like retired police officers to work in the classroom. But the way to fill teacher vacancies is to pay what the profession demands. Let’s stop with the half-measures and start putting students first.
DeSantis announced during a news conference that he wants state lawmakers to create an easier path for retired law enforcement officers and other first responders to enter the teaching field. The move would expand a program enacted earlier this year that enables military veterans without a bachelor’s degree to obtain a temporary teaching certificate. Applicants would need to have completed at least 60 hours of college credits — the equivalent of an associate’s degree — hold a 3.0 grade average and pass a background check. Those accepted would spend the first two years in the classroom under the mentoring of an experienced teacher, who themselves would be eligible for bonuses for participating.
First responders can often retire early, taking advantage of generous pensions, leaving them a decade or longer to stay in the workforce. Whether teaching attracts them remains to be seen. But why troll for teachers only among retired veterans, police and firefighters? What about civil servants, authors, artists, health care workers and others outside of security work who also didn’t pursue the teaching track? Don’t they have something to offer? If Florida is relying on an enlistment strategy, why not expand incentives to other occupations, industries and walks of life?
Of course, that raises the bigger question: Why is Florida responding to the teacher shortage by lowering professional standards in the classroom? Florida has about 9,000 vacant teaching positions in schools across the state, according to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Education. Florida’s shortage is part of a teacher deficit nationwide, as stresses from the pandemic, low pay and the micro-management of campuses has led many teachers to retire early or pursue other job opportunities. While Florida has worked to increase starting salaries, the state ranks 48th in the nation when it comes to average teacher salaries, according to an April report by the National Education Association. The teaching environment here is also worsening, as DeSantis and other Republicans have made grade schools and universities the latest battle grounds in partisan culture wars.
Students deserve quality teachers throughout the course of their scholastic lives. Teachers deserve to be appreciated and recognized for the tall job of preparing future generations. This all takes money, and plugging the ranks here and there with unqualified instructors who need to be babysat in their own classrooms won’t work. Florida needs to acknowledge why teachers are leaving and quit pretending that half-solutions will gloss over the problem.
Incentives? Fine. Maybe some will help. But lawmakers and the public cannot delude themselves about the value of a one-time bonus. Standing in front of middle-schoolers is tough. Not anybody can show up every day taking hits from students, parents and politicians. Not anybody can stay true while watching their profession get treated as expendable. Florida needs to pay its teachers for this critical job and provide more support as competition for this talent heightens nationwide.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.