Don’t be fooled. Florida’s teacher and staff shortage will drop out of the headlines this fall as schools reduce vacancies, but thousands of kids still will be missing out on the education they deserve and need.
Florida’s educator shortage is a longstanding and worsening problem that impacts children and families daily. The good news is, we can fix this. Working together, we can keep great teachers and staff in our schools while creating a climate that encourages more talented candidates who love kids to enter education.
Speaking of the social and political climate, the first fix up is easy: Stop bashing teachers.
Every time a politician or activist steps up to demonize school employees or promote false information about what’s taught in classrooms, they make jobs that are already tough a little bit tougher, and they make it more difficult to hire and keep teachers and staff. Dragging culture-war politics into schools is a great way to stir up drama, but it’s terrible for students. Those who would tear apart our communities and even sacrifice the well-being of children for the sake of their own personal political ambition should be ashamed.
Of course, one quick fix won’t solve a longstanding shortage. No one can wave a magic wand and conjure up teachers and staff. Regarding Gov. DeSantis’ push to get military veterans and first responders into classrooms, the Florida Education Association welcomes anyone with the qualities to become a good educator into our schools, but we do not support lowering the standards for teachers, which can set them and students up for failure. We do support lowering the barriers to teaching, such as by waiving testing fees for all future and current teachers, instead of just for select groups such as military veterans.
When new teachers enter Florida’s classrooms, however, they will encounter the conditions driving away teachers and staff: a lack of respect and low pay.
The Legislature can begin to fix that as soon as the 2023 session. Most basically, lawmakers should right-size funding for students and schools. The state with the nation’s fourth-largest economy can do better than a ranking of 44th in the nation for funding education.
Next there’s the issue of fair, competitive pay for all educators. Despite increases to beginning salaries, average teacher pay in Florida still ranks 48th nationally, according to the National Education Association. More than 20 laws and rules govern teachers’ pay, and due to an experience penalty, some teachers with 10 or more years of experience make the same as fresh recruits.
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If we want educators to stay, repeal those laws and increase funding for all salaries. Then allow teachers to earn basic job stability and avoid facing a pink slip each year — as new hires have since 2011.
The Florida Education Association has thought long and hard about how to improve conditions for students and school employees — more suggestions are on the FEA website, feaweb.org. We are eager to work with anyone who wants strong public schools where all kids can thrive.
Andrew Spar is president of the Florida Education Association, representing more than 150,000 preK-12 teachers and education staff professionals, higher education faculty and graduate assistants, students preparing to become teachers, and retired education employees.