Low pay and a hostile environment toward educators around LGBTQ issues and race continue to push away Florida teachers in droves.
As students go back to school across Florida, the Sunshine State continues to lose educators in droves. In fact, the Florida Education Association (FEA) is anticipating over 8,000 teacher vacancies going into the 2022-2023 school year.
One of the reasons is that because despite funding from the Legislature to increase the minimum starting salary for teachers, the state still ranks 48th nationally in teacher pay, with an average salary of $51,009 during the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Education Association (NEA).
But money is not the only problem driving teachers away. Florida’s recent passage of the so-called “parental-rights” laws, including “Don’t Say Gay” and the Stop WOKE Act, that limit what educators can say about issues such as sexual orientation, gender identity, and race, has had an effect on teachers like Anita Carson, a teacher for Polk County Public Schools in Florida, who left the profession she loved when it became “heartbreaking.”
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“With the very blatant attacks on education and on marginalized communities, I just couldn’t teach anymore,” Carson, who is now a community organizer for Equality Florida, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said to 19th News Organization. “I cannot fathom being in a classroom where I cannot support my kids to the fullest of my ability because there are now laws that tell me what I can and cannot do to support my kids; like, that’s heartbreaking.”
Lowering the Bar
In response to the growing problem, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law this year (SB 896) allowing US military veterans to get a teaching certificate. According to DeSantis, teaching requirements have been “too rigid” for requiring educators to have “certain credentials.”
For this reason, the Florida Department of Education announced that military veterans, as well as their spouses, would receive a five-year voucher that allows them to teach in the classroom despite not receiving a degree to do so.
Veterans could teach if they served four years and got an honorable or medical discharge and clear a background check. They also must have completed 60 college credits with a 2.5 GPA and pass a Florida subject exam.
However, many oppose what they see as lowering the bar for educators as well as minimizing the criteria of what it takes to enter the profession. “You can’t just throw any warm body into the classroom,” the Sarasota Teacher’s Union stated.
“There are many people who have gone through many hoops and hurdles to obtain a proper teaching certificate,” Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County teachers union, told USA Today. “[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.”
Calling for a Solution
In response, the Florida Education Association called on lawmakers to ensure teachers get better salaries and schools have “qualified, experienced teachers.”
US Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running to unseat DeSantis in November, had stronger words for the governor.
“The conditions are not good. The pay is not right. Everything is wrong under Wrong Ron,” said the state’s last elected Education Commissioner as he unveiled his education-focused “Freedom to Learn” policy. The program looks to invest “5.5 billion to increase teacher pay,” as well as free teachers from efforts to limit classroom discussions on race and LGBTQ matters.
“‘Don’t Say Gay’ is a heinous piece of legislation that silences teachers in their own classrooms and takes away the safe spaces of millions of LGBTQ students who may have nowhere else to turn,” Crist said.