“Our veterans have a wealth of knowledge they can bring to bear in the classroom, and with this innovative approach, they will be able to do so,” said Governor Ron DeSantis from his office a little over a year ago.
DeSantis was touting the state’s “innovative” new program to hire more teachers in Florida by looking to military veterans to fill vacancies.
“For too long, the requirements to become a teacher have been too rigid with union bosses insisting that all educators have certain credentials that often have little impact on performance,” he said at the time.
But 13 months after Florida’s Department of Education (FDOE) amended its teaching requirements to give military vets an easier pathway to become certified teachers, state numbers show veteran participation is, well, less than five stars.
In fact, nearly two months after we requested the latest data on the state’s new Military Veterans Certification Pathway program, FDOE finally provided some numbers.
According to the FDOE, 31 veterans are currently teaching in Florida through this new state initiative, with active teachers in 22 of Florida’s 67 school districts.
“Everyone needs an opportunity, and everyone needs a door open,” said Kristopher Butler, among the state’s 31 veterans teaching through the program. Butler is a former marine and is now teaching in Broward County. He’s one of two military veterans in the state’s second-largest school district to be teaching through this state program.
Most of the other school districts with veterans teaching through the program are small to mid-size school districts. Brevard County and Lake County schools each have three active teachers through the program, the most in any single school district.
“It seems like there was a lot of fanfare around this program being a huge solution to a problem. Clearly, that's not the case,” said Andrew Spar, head of the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teacher’s union. For years, the FEA has called on state politicians to pump more money into public schools and teacher pay.
Despite a boost to teacher pay last year, Florida still ranks among states that spend the least on public education, including teacher salaries, according to Education Data Initiative.
“What we don't want is temporary band-aids and temporary solutions. We need a long-term solution,” Spar said.
At the beginning of this school year, the FEA issued a press release stating the number of teacher vacancies in Florida had reached nearly 7,000, “the worst in state history.”
The FDOE later came out with its own press release disputing those numbers by stating the number of teacher vacancies at the beginning of this year was 4,776. Regardless of who you believe, teacher vacancies remain a statewide problem.
While the number of military veterans taking advantage of Florida’s new program seems far from stellar, state numbers show just over 705 people have applied to teach through the new pathway program with 49 ‘statements of status eligibility issued,’ according to the FDOE. It remains clear how many military veterans who became teachers through the program left and why. In response to questions about the low participation rate, a spokesperson from the FDOE explained the military veteran teacher certification pathway program is one of 13 routes available for educator certification in Florida.
For Butler, the program is helping him fast-track his career goals.
“Regardless of this, I would have become a teacher. This just allowed me to do that a year sooner than I was going to,” he said.
But the numbers show it’s not for most military veterans in Florida, and some education advocates aren’t the least bit surprised.
“I really appreciate the sacrifices that our military members make for our country and for our communities every day. But that doesn't necessarily mean they can just walk right in and be a teacher,” said Spar.