Florida Public Education Teacher Shortage Reaches Record High

Whenever governors run for president, they like to paint an ideal picture of their state that only exists, of course, thanks to their policies. Ron DeSantis was no different and, while things in Florida might not be all bad, some things need his immediate attention, like the record-high public education teacher shortage. Students in the Sunshine State are paying the price for a whopping 7,000 teacher shortage with larger class sizes, less individual attention, and fewer instruction days.

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If Ron DeSantis wants to paint a rosy picture in 2028 (or any time, really), nothing would be more impressive than fixing the public education system.

Licensing Process

I applied for a Florida Educator Certificate covering English (Grades 5-9) on November 13, 2023. My transcript from Baylor University was physically mailed to the Florida Department of Education on November 22, 2023. On Friday, January 19, 2024, I was informed via email that I have to take a competency test; the earliest non-work day appointment available is February 17, 2024. 

In a state that is 7,000 teachers short, why does it take three months to push someone through the bureaucracy? One would think the first logical step would be to speed up the licensing process. An online application should be processed within 2 business days because it should be automated. A certified copy of a transcript should be processed within 5 business days. Once the transcript is processed, it should be an immediate A/B automated process; competency test takers get one email and credit hours get another. 

Also, would it hurt to reduce both the $80 application fee and $150 testing fee? What do those fees even pay for? Someone to open an envelope and add a document to an account? Oh, wait, I forgot about the 18-story building in downtown Tallahassee that houses the state’s Department of Education. Those 420,000 square feet require a lot of upkeep, not to mention the pensions, coffee makers, and laptops required by the department’s 1,500 employees.

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Compensation

For all the talk of how prosperous Floridians are, I can’t help but wonder why the average public teacher salary is $51,000. How do private businesses poach talent? Signing bonuses, performance bonuses, and frequent eligibilities for raises. None of those exist in public education.

We’ve all seen the viral videos of young people, fresh out of college, saddled with enormous debt and struggling to find the $100,000 starting annual salary they thought they’d get right out of the gate, crying over their skinny vanilla oat milk macchiatos, and we all laugh because, well, they’re delusional. And then we see the TikToks of deranged individuals celebrating lying to parents about their child’s preferred pronouns, more concerned about binding and tucking than reading fluency or subject-verb agreement.

But what about those professionals with 20 years of experience and six-figure salaries, the ones who know what they’re doing and doing it well? Those are the people I’d want teaching my kids, not some genitalia-obsessed culture zealot. 

You’re going to have a hard time catching a sailfish with an earthworm. I walked away from a 17-year career and corroborating salary, but I’m an exception. Changing careers to work 60 hours a week in a germ factory that is held hostage by political bureaucracies, all for $51,000 and whatever job satisfaction you can find? Ron DeSantis, we can do better. We have to do better. 

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Student Testing

The Sunshine State requires students take the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (or the F.A.S.T.) three times a year, in August, December, and May. This test requires a half day for reading and writing and another half day for math. Additionally, individual districts have their own testing requirements. My district, Hillsborough County, collects data in a separate test that is also given three times a year, October, January, and April. Because I’m at a charter school, the company that holds the charter requires a reading and writing assessment every other week. 

Testing means not teaching. These are curriculum days lost to entities that all have access to each other’s data points but insist on collecting their own for whatever reason. Plus, don’t forget that students who are absent on testing days are pulled from class to make up those tests.

Because schools do not have enough teachers, classes are being combined. I have 34 students in my 8th grade English class. If everyone is in attendance, I have a student sitting on the floor because my classroom barely has space for 33 desks and chairs. I don’t have a desk for myself for lack of space. Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this: too many kids with too few instruction days expected to test regularly is a logistical nightmare. 

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Governor DeSantis, now is the time to get to the root of the culture problem both in this country and your state. Solving the teacher shortage with private sector innovation, strong work ethic, and standing up to union bullies is what you do best so, please, make this a 2024 priority.

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