Six months after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state's veteran to teacher certification pathway into law, only a handful of veterans have been approved for certification across all 70-plus school districts, Military.com has learned.
When the school year started in 2022, there were more than 5,000 teacher openings in the state, and the June law was intended to help fill that gap while tackling veteran unemployment.
But in total, seven teachers have been hired through the program, a sign that, while the law generated headlines, it's unlikely to fix the problem.
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Educators say the teacher shortage is driven, in part, by low salaries: Florida is ranked 48th in the country for schoolteacher pay, according to the National Education Association.
Dan Smith, the president of the Seminole Education Association, told Military.com he's disappointed the program isn't helping address the teacher shortfall and it appears like it was more of a political play than a practical solution. DeSantis has been rumored to be considering running for the presidency despite his repeated statements that such sentiment is speculation.
"Educationally…it's akin to throwing darts at the wall. Politically, when you're running for president of the United States, it's a very, very good thing to do ... but it's all smoke," Smith said. "He [DeSantis] gets to hit on the military, he gets to hit on our veterans, and these are all positive vote-getters. It doesn't do anything for public education."
The program, formally the Military Veterans Certification Pathway, is meant to grant a temporary five-year teaching certificate to veterans who completed a minimum four years of service. They also must earn 60 college credits, with a minimum 2.5 grade point average.
Florida's Department of Education emphasized in its rollout of the program in July that the opportunity is meant for candidates "who have not yet earned their bachelor's degree," which some educators say could set veterans -- and schools -- up to fail.
Many district officials -- ranging from human resources officers to certification specialists to public information officers -- voiced concern about the program, wishing they'd had more veterans apply, but also pointing to Florida's state certification test as a barrier.
Althea Walker, a department manager for recruitment at Hillsborough County Public Schools, told Military.com that many veterans didn't understand how involved the process was to get certified.
"My understanding from the applicants that I've spoken with is that they didn't know they had to meet those certifications. They thought if they were veterans and they had a college degree, they were good," Walker told Military.com. "We've heard from our politicians in the state 'that anyone can teach,' which doesn't help."
Military.com initially contacted Florida's Department of Education in September to request the number of veterans who have been approved for this certification pathway. The department responded to a November request by touting 480 applications, but did not reply to repeated inquiries from the publication over the last three months for details on how many had been approved.
Reporters for Military.com in turn contacted all 74 school districts in the state, the total listed on the Florida Department of Education's website. Nearly half of the districts replied, including several of the largest.
Only two said that they had hired veterans under this new program, each hiring one veteran.
Two school district officials who participated in a briefing with state education officials this fall said that the state had approved only a handful of veterans for teaching slots. Both said that state officials had described only six veterans in the process of becoming teachers statewide.
On Wednesday morning, Military.com called the state's Department of Education, spoke to a representative, and emailed them a list of questions detailing the findings from contacting the school districts and the account of the fall briefing provided by local officials.
In an email Wednesday evening, a spokesperson said that the program currently has seven veterans working as teachers through the program, out of 538 applications.
"Florida is proud to offer the Military Veterans Certification Pathway, a pathway that offers a five-year temporary educator certificate to eligible veterans," Cassie Palelis, the press secretary for the Florida Department of Education, told Military.com.
Smith said he's not surprised that many veterans might not pass the teaching certification exam, commenting that he knows teachers who have been in school for years who still fall short.
Offering a fast-track to those certifications would be a detriment to the state's students, some critics of the program have said, and some teachers believe that sending untested people into a classroom would only exacerbate underlying problems in Florida's education system.
"Think it's a good idea to send an unprepared teacher into a hostage situation or a burning apartment building?" Florida teacher Chris Fulton wrote for the Tampa Bay Times in August. "Well, the converse holds true as well."
The idea to match veterans to classrooms did not originate in Florida. The federal Troops to Teachers program, which was briefly canceled by the Pentagon last year, has been around since 1993. With roughly 100,000 alumni, the initiative offers thousands in stipends for veterans and requires at least a complete bachelor's degree to participate.
Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward County Teachers Union, said she knows many veterans who have become teachers. But she isn't surprised that former service members aren't flocking to the new program. She said it isn't easy being a teacher in 2022: There are long hours and a lot of out-of-pocket expenses, and the expectations that students and parents have of their educators have changed significantly.
Fusco said becoming a teacher means committing to the profession, struggles and all. She said a lot needs to change in the state to make the career welcoming, including properly preparing future teachers for what they're up against.
"I don't think anything is going to come close to fixing the teacher shortfall unless we fix the pay issue," she told Military.com. "It's a lot of work to get these credentials, and it's a lot to endure with little pay."
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