Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on Tuesday, announced a new initiative to offer hiring bonuses to retired police officers and first responders willing to help fill teaching vacancies across the state, expanding on his prior offer to allow veterans easier access to temporary teaching certificates.
As part of the first of three proposals the governor said would be introduced at the start of the 2023 legislative session aimed at elevating teachers’ and students’ learning, DeSantis explained how one-time bonuses would be offered to retired military veterans and retired first responders, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics, who commit to joining the teaching profession for two years as a full-time classroom teacher. Those who register must have a bachelor’s degree.
The bonuses start at $4,000, but those willing to instruct courses or subject matters with really acute shortages will receive an additional $1,000, DeSantis said, according to the Miami Herald. The initiative would also expand the waiver of certification exam fees offered to vets also to all retired first responders.
“Just like we do for veterans, we will do for the other first responders,” DeSantis said at a press conference in New Port Richey. “We will waive the exam fees for the state certification program.”
According to the most recent data from the Florida Department of Education, the projected number of vacancies for teachers needed across the state in the 2021-22 school year was 9,079.
“We believe that the folks that have served our communities have an awful lot to offer,” the governor told reporters Tuesday morning. “We have people who have served 20 years in law enforcement, who have retired, and some of them are looking for the next chapter in their life.”
DeSantis introduced a second proposal for an apprenticeship program that provides bonuses to teachers for mentoring aspiring teachers with an associate’s degree to gain hands-on teaching experience. Applicants must have an associate’s degree from an accredited postsecondary institution, a 3.0 cumulative grade point average, and a successful passage of a background check.
The third proposal focused on a scholarship program for K-12 teachers interested in teaching dual enrollment courses on high school campuses.
“These three initiatives will build on our efforts to increase recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers. Great teachers don’t become great teachers because they are sitting in a university lecture hall. What makes a teacher great is being in the classroom, watching other teachers, and seeing what works,” DeSantis said in a statement. “With today’s announcement we will be helping more teachers gain that critical firsthand experience, and we will be recruiting first responders and veterans to continue their service in the classroom. Our students will greatly benefit from these programs.”
Last year, DeSantis touted hiring bonuses for law enforcement members willing to leave New York City and other metropolitan areas with Democratic leadership he asserted did not support the police.
The governor on Tuesday pushed back against criticism toward his support of giving veterans easier access to five-year temporary teaching certificates, saying, “They said, ‘You can’t just have any old warm body in the classroom.’ Look, as a veteran, I will tell you the people that serve our country are not just some warm body,” according to The Herald.
At the press conference, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said the proposal to offer bonuses to retired first responders to become teachers was “common sense,” as former police officers and other law enforcement will be able to share with students their lived experiences and perspectives on the field.