TALLAHASSEE — As we enter a third pandemic year, Florida’s public schools are facing a significant crisis. Every student has been affected by disruptions related to Covid. Second-graders have never experienced a “normal” school year. Shortages of teachers and school support staff are reaching unprecedented levels, with the situation impacting children and families daily. Viewed in context, the proposals highlighted today in Gov. DeSantis’ State of the State address fail to offer substantial, long-term solutions for the most important issues facing Florida’s public schools.
“The governor owes the future of this state his full, undivided attention and support. When it comes to public schools, that means focusing on what really matters for kids — like having qualified teachers in their classrooms and bus drivers to get them to school,” said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar. “Floridians want strong public schools that provide a world-class education for every child, regardless of ZIP code, race, background or ability. We need significant, sustained investment in our schools and the people working to keep students safe and learning, along with smart policy changes designed to help kids achieve. A teacher bonus is a Band-Aid approach that has already proved to be a failure.”
As the governor proposes teacher bonuses for a second year, vacancies continue to rise for both teachers and support staff such as paraprofessionals, bus drivers, custodians and other essential employees. FEA found that advertised teaching vacancies increased by 67 percent from August 2020 to August 2021. By October 2021, there were more than 5,000 advertised vacancies for teachers and more than 4,000 for support staff. Vacancies normally go down after the school year begins each August. For 2021-22, they went up.
Instead of trying the same tactic over again, the governor should listen to the voices of the women and men who know Florida’s students by name. He would hear the need for professional pay for all educators — pay that recognizes and values experience, just as the governor has proposed with law enforcement. He would hear also of the need for a commitment to academic freedom and for treating educators as professionals instead of micromanaging them.
On the issue of high-stakes standardized testing, Gov. DeSantis made a bold step last year by saying that we need to move away from Florida Standards Assessments (FSA). Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and make sure that we are addressing assessment in a way that promotes student learning and empowers teachers to meet the needs of every child. Again, FEA would urge the governor and lawmakers to listen to the voices of educators and parents to find the best path forward.
Most of all, we urge him to focus on real issues that truly matter to our students — and to avoid political distractions that do not serve the best interests of all Floridians.
“Florida’s teachers and staff are some of the most patriotic people in America,” FEA President Spar said today. “They work hard toward what our Founding Fathers knew was needed, an educated citizenry. Support our teachers and staff, Gov. DeSantis. Don’t villainize them.”
CONTACT: Joni Branch, firstname.lastname@example.org, (850) 201-3223
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with 150,000 members. FEA represents PreK-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.