Veterans can now teach in Florida with no degree. School leaders say it ‘lowers the bar’

A potential solution to a statewide teacher shortage issue has education leaders feeling as though Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is undermining the qualifications of classroom instructors.

Last week, 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. It’s a move tied to the $8.6 million the state announced would be used to expand career and workforce training opportunities for military veterans and their spouses.

“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. “(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.”

On June 9, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that gave the approval for military members, both former and present, and their spouses to teach. Reserve military members count, as well.

Teacher candidates must have a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.5 GPA, and also must receive a passing score on the FLDOE subject area examination for bachelor’s level subjects.

Veterans must have a minimum of 48 months of military service completed with honorable/medical discharge. If hired by a school district, they have to have a teaching mentor.

Alachua County school board members expressed their distaste for the new law at a recent workshop where the details were presented.

Tina Certain said she feels like the bill lowers the bar for educators.

“It’s not that I’m against the service that veterans provide to our country,” she said. “I just think that to the education profession, we’re lowering the bar on that and minimizing the criteria of what it takes to enter the profession.”

Certain also made clear that she doesn’t want the district to push those teachers all to lower-performing schools on the east side of Gainesville.

Another school board member, Rob Hyatt, while expressing his frustration, appeared to be more optimistic.

“Unfortunately, we, like all other school districts, are experiencing a very real shortage,” he said. “I think that this legislation is a reaction to the fact … I have confidence in our HR department to make the best out of this.”

The Alachua County public school district currently has more than 60 teaching vacancies. Since the law passed, no veterans or spouses have applied to the school district for a job, spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said.

“But if someone were to contact us expressing interest in the program, we would help them with the process for earning the state certification,” Johnson said. “If they were successful, they would then be eligible to apply for a job with the district, as would anyone with a valid certification.”

Ward, however, feels it’s the wrong approach to the issue, saying that more support and better pay would close the vacancies.

“There’s an assumption that if you were a student, that you are also qualified to be a teacher,” Ward said. “That’s not necessarily the case and so it’s just highly concerning because we’ve always had a high standard for educators in the public school system.”

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