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DeSantis wants retired police, firefighters to be teachers

Aug. 16, 2022 Updated Tue., Aug. 16, 2022 at 11:54 a.m.

By Steven Lemongello and Leslie Postal Orlando Sentinel

Describing college education programs as “overtaken by ideology,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he wants to expand a new law that allows military veterans to become classroom teachers to include retired first responders such as police, firefighters and EMTs.

“We believe that the folks that have served our communities have an awful lot to offer,” DeSantis said at an event in New Port Richey. “And we’ve got people that have served 20 years and in law enforcement, they retire and some of them are looking for kind of the next chapter in their life. … Well, they’re not going to just sit around on their hands, they want to do something. So we want to provide a pathway we want to incentivize them being able to help.”

DeSantis said the program, which would require legislative approval, would be open to first responders with bachelor’s degrees, adding the state would waive the exam fees for the state teacher certification. They would also be eligible for a $4,000 bonus to be able to serve.

“And if they teach courses that have really acute shortages … they’ll get another $1,000,” DeSantis said. “… Some of the areas where we’ve been short, science, [special education], reading, those are all very, very important.”

The governor also slammed college schools of education as “a magnet for a lot of ideology.”

“We would prefer people with real world experience and academic proficiency in the core subjects when they’re teaching English, math, science, not saying, ‘Oh, I got I went to the School of Education somewhere and they taught me kind of how to teach,’” DeSantis said. “Because I’ve seen that, and I’ve been very underwhelmed by it.”

At the event, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said first responders could help classrooms in emergencies.

“Who else would you want in your classrooms?” Nocco said. “You talk about firefighters in that room, you talk about overdoses, you talk about law enforcement in that room, you talk about school shooting violence. It’d be great to have these people in the room, I can assure you, as a parent, I’d be happy to know, there was a former first responder teaching our kids.”

DeSantis also wants to create an apprenticeship system to allow people with associate’s degrees to be mentored for two years to become teachers, as well as a program to allow current high school teachers to earn their master’s degrees in order to teach classes that award college credit.

Florida’s new law to recruit military veterans as teachers, allowing them to obtain temporary certification even before they earn the bachelor’s degree required to teach in Florida’s public schools, took effect this year.

DeSantis touted it as a way to boost teaching ranks, but some educators have criticized the new initiative, saying it would allow unqualified instructors into classrooms.

“There are many people who have gone through many hoops and hurdles to obtain a proper teaching certificate,” Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County teachers union, told the Gainesville Sun. “[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.”

One Central Florida administrator doubted the veterans program will make much difference in the severe teacher shortage facing the schools.

“We love to talk to anyone,” said Shawn Gard-Harrold, an assistant superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools, a district that honors a “veteran of the month” at its school board meetings. But Gard-Harrold said he doubted there was a big enough pool of veterans eager to teach to make a dent in Central Florida teacher vacancies, which currently top 400.

The veterans program is open to those who served at least four years, were honorably discharged and have at least 60 college credits, or about two years of college coursework. They also must pass a state certification test in the subject they plan to teach.

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