Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Gershon Harell and Samantha Gholar | Updated July 28, 2022
Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to say that only veterans, and not their spouses, are eligible for a new temporary certification program to teach without having a bachelor’s degree. It clarifies the requirements for veterans to use the program.
SARASOTA — Sarasota County School District teachers and parents are expressing frustration and concern with the latest state rules allowing military veterans to teach in Florida classrooms despite not having earned a degree to instruct.
Envisioned as a potential solution to a statewide teacher shortage issue, the rules have education leaders here and elsewhere in Florida 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 could receive five-year vouchers to allow them to teach in the classroom without a teacher’s degree. It’s a move tied to $8.6 million the state announced would be used to expand career and workforce training opportunities for military veterans. Veterans’ spouses would be eligible to have initial certification fees waived but not for the five-year vouchers.
Barry Dubin, president of the Sarasota County Teachers Association (SCTA), said that he isn’t surprised by the move in Tallahassee.
“It’s got nothing to do with education,” Dubin said, adding that teachers “are caught in the middle of this culture war of this country, and this is central to that … if you object to it, you are anti-veteran, which is not true.”
Dubin, who worked as a school psychologist in the district for three decades, says that the priority of school districts should be to educate students, but added that recent legislation continues to put strain on the profession.
“There are other agencies that are out there to advocate for veterans and take care of them as they should, but it’s my job to look out for the students and those educating the students,” he said.
“You can’t just throw a warm body in a classroom, that’s not the answer.”
The Florida Department of Education will offer veterans a “Military Veterans Certification Pathway” if they have a minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.5 GPA, and receive a passing score on the 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. They will have five years to fulfill the requirements for a teaching certificate, which includes a bachelor’s degree.
Support Our Schools, a vocal Sarasota-based education nonprofit that supports teachers, administrators, and the School Board to provide quality education, said the move is not a long-term solution to a teacher shortage problem. The organization’s president Carol Lerner said the group is worried about the future of public education.
“What they have done with their policies is frighten teachers away,” Lerner said. “We are very concerned about this … we see it as an attack and effort to dismantle the public education system.”
Lerner, a retired educator, said many local teachers are calling the organization ‘in tears’ over concerns about the legislation that affects the profession, and argued it helps explain why Florida school districts are looking to fill 9,500 vacant teaching positions for the coming school year.
“They’ve worked hard, earned degrees, many teachers in this district have master’s degrees. I know a lot of them feel undervalued and are leaving. It’s concerning, it’s really dangerous when you start lowering standards,” she said.
Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County teachers union, concurred. “There are many people who have gone through many hoops and hurdles to obtain a proper teaching certificate,” Ward said. “(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, to teach. Reserve military members count, as well.
Sarasota County lists 69 vacancies for instructional positions and 30 for non-instructional. The Manatee district lists a total of 372 openings. Information was not available at deadline on whether any veterans had sought to fill instructional positions in the two districts.
Alachua School Board members expressed their distaste for the new law at a recent workshop where the details were presented.
“It’s not that I’m against the service that veterans provide to our country,” Tina Certain 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.”
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.”
This story includes reporting from the Gainesville Sun and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.View Comments