Florida’s education system is facing a crisis that will affect our children and our future. Teachers have been leaving schools at alarming rates with no one to replace them.
Low pay and the stress associated with teaching have driven many college students away from the profession, leaving a shallow talent pool of highly qualified teachers. Additionally, Florida TaxWatch research has found that Constitutionally-mandated class size limits in Florida have led to higher demand for teachers, resulting in under-qualified individuals being hired or schools not being able to fill the position as the pool of teachers shrinks.
The number of college students who strive to be teachers has fallen so much that some school districts are reporting that they have had difficulty hiring elementary school teachers, which traditionally had been the easiest positions to fill.
Simply put, younger people no longer view teaching as a career that leads to success and life satisfaction.
In an effort to encourage college students to pursue teaching, the Florida Legislature must continue to find policy solutions to improve the educational system and tear down barriers to entry into the profession.
Many of Florida’s requirements to teach disincentivize people away from teaching. For example, Florida requires new hires to take a variety of tests over a period of multiple years, all of which must be paid for out of pocket. These tests have also become stricter in the last few years.
In fact, a recent investigative report found these tests have kept high-performing college graduates from teaching because they did not pass. This has exacerbated the teacher shortage further. This is not encouraging for potential teachers who see these horror stories and have to wonder if four years of college to teach is worth potentially failing a state exam, keeping them from achieving their dream.
Luckily, the Legislature took steps to address this. A bill signed into law during the 2016 Legislative Session exempts high-performing STEM teachers from required extra classes if they have advanced degrees. Lawmakers are looking at ways to extend the exemption to those with Bachelor degrees in STEM fields as well.
Lawmakers also considered loan forgiveness for STEM teachers last year but both the Senate and House bills died in session. The goal was to encourage qualified college graduates to remain in Florida and to teach a STEM course at a public school.
The state could also consider options to adjust the calculation of class sizes to a school level average, as noted in a 2015 Florida TaxWatch report. The adjustment would cut class size compliance costs and result in savings for schools. This would allow them to invest in better teacher training programs and higher teacher salaries, making it easier to attract new teachers while boosting student achievement.
A sign near the University of Central Florida campus desperately pleads with students to “Become a Hero” by pursuing a teaching career. That plea should not be ignored. Without high quality teachers in the classrooms, our children’s education will suffer, resulting in negative consequences for our state down the road.