TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is doubling down on his efforts to get first responders in the classroom. But his efforts are coming with controversy.
DeSantis is aiming to fill some of these teacher positions with retired first responders, similar to a new program the state has for veterans.
But some leaders in our education system feel this is starting to discredit educators.
"There's various pathways here, and not one is better than the other. Certainly, just having a piece of paper does not make you better than somebody that does not have that piece of paper," DeSantis said Wednesday during a news conference in Pensacola.
"We are saying teaching is not about learning quote, unquote education in college, it’s really about having proficiency in subjects and then learning on the ground about how to do it," said DeSantis.
DeSantis bragged on the legislation he signed earlier this year, providing a pathway for veterans to become teachers, and now saying he wants law enforcement and first responders to have the same opportunities.
"Those folks are bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge. I think the students look up to them, and I think it's a big deal," DeSantis said.
The recruitment program would essentially waive exam fees and throw in a few thousand dollars in bonuses.
To be eligible, applicants would need 60 credit hours and four years of military expirence.
Justin Katz, the president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association, said bringing in these retirees is not addressing the root cause of the problem.
"The pay and the working conditions are what have caused teachers to leave the classroom," Katz said.
The School District of Palm Beach County has 380 teacher vacancies heading into the school year, 100 more than last year.
"It devalues all of the educators and their work and their education and their training by saying that we're just going to allow certain groups to come into the classroom entirely unprepared and wing it and learn on the job," Katz said.
John Rourke is a retired army veteran and said there's no better person for the job as both a veteran and parent.
"We're all teachers. All we do is teach young people when we're in the Army," Rourke said. "I would love to have a law enforcement officer teaching my children, or a veteran, especially with the way the school shooting are going on top of that."
The School District of Palm Beach County said it has yet to hire a veteran through the new certification program, but they have received interest in applications.