NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced three initiatives Tuesday aimed at teachers during a news conference in New Port Richey.
The initiatives detailed by the governor include a recruitment program to encourage retired military veterans and first responders to become teachers, a teacher apprenticeship program, and a scholarship program for teachers.
The recruitment program for veterans and first responders will waive exam fees for the state teacher's certification exam for retired military veterans, first responders, law enforcement, EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters who have their bachelor's degree.
Those who participate in the program will be eligible to receive a $4,000 bonus.
If they choose to teach courses that have acute shortages, such as science, Exceptional Student Education (ESE), and reading, they are eligible for an additional $1,000 bonus.
"We understood that there was going to be a continuing need to address teacher recruitment. So the legislature passed and I signed a bill recently identifying military veterans that have 4 years or more of active duty honorable service, who have 60 college credit hours, who've passed the exam, and then what they would basically be able to do is they would be able to get a temporary certificate to be able to teach and then obviously work to get their bachelor's degree and it was unanimously passed by the legislature," DeSantis said. "You know some in the media just recently started attacking us over this. They said you can't just put any old warm body in the classroom. And look, as a veteran, I will tell you - like, the people who serve our country are not just some warm bodies. They're people who have a lot to offer."
Gubernatorial candidate and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried issued a statement Tuesday, framing DeSantis' teacher recruitment initiative as "working to lower standards for teaching certificates and teaching positions."
"Let me be clear: we should not be lowering the bar for teachers in Florida. Instead of paying teachers what they’re worth and agreeing to stop politicizing their jobs, DeSantis is trying to let Floridians with no experience and minimal training teach our kids," Fried said. "It’s not rocket science: we have a teacher shortage crisis because DeSantis has turned classrooms into battlegrounds to fight his culture wars and divide our state. Allowing anyone to teach without a certificate will push Florida even further to bottom of the rankings when it comes to the quality of our education, and our kids will ultimately pay the price. There are plenty of qualified people who would love to be certified teachers if they were paid enough to make ends meet and didn’t have to buy basic classroom supplies with their own money. This is unfortunately just another fight in DeSantis’ war on public education and kids in Florida."
The teacher apprenticeship program will allow Floridians with their associate's degree to get professional experience teaching in the classroom under the mentorship of an experienced teacher.
"They will spend two years teaching under the leadership of a high quality teacher mentor to gain real world classroom experience. The apprentice will then go on to receive the bachelor's degree and the teacher mentor, for every apprentice that they have, the mentor will get a $4,000 bonus," DeSantis said. "We believe in doing. And we believe in learning by doing and this is going to be a great program and will obviously be a great boon to experienced teachers who want to participate in this and want to help mentor our future teachers."
Mentor teachers must have at least seven years of teaching experience and highly effective ratings on VAM scores or district performance reviews to be considered for the program.
Mentor teachers will be eligible for a bonus payable half after the first successful year of the apprenticeship and half after the second year.
The scholarship program for current teachers to earn their master's degree will allow them to teach dual enrollment courses, enabling students to save time and money by earning college credits while still in high school.
The program will cover the full cost of tuition and fees, plus a book stipend each semester for teacher's working towards their master's degree.
Applicants must be accepted into, or currently enrolled in, an approved graduate program in a subject in their area of certification and complete their graduate degree within three years of the award.