As Moms for Liberty opened its inaugural summit with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ breakfast address, progressives highlighted how his ambitions could be why their kids may not have a qualified teacher leading class next month.
The newly formed DeSantis Watch, dedicated to spotlighting the ways the Governor is using Florida to energize his base for a presidential run, fired its opening salvo at how DeSantis is driving the state’s teacher shortage, in more ways than one.
Under his watch, teacher salaries are in the basement, housing has become unaffordable and legislation with his stamp of approval is inflaming culture war tensions, according to a Friday DeSantis Watch news release.
The group, a joint effort of two progressive-leaning organizations, Florida Watch and Progress Florida, took aim particularly at legislation that more closely regulates the teaching of history, (HB 7), and discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation (HB 1557). Leading a classroom in what DeSantis calls the freest state in the country is anything but empowering, a DeSantis Watch official argued.
“Educators in Florida don’t have the freedom to teach honest history, don’t have the freedom to offer support to their students, and at the end of the school day, don’t have the freedom to afford a roof over their heads without a second job,” said Natasha Sutherland, DeSantis Watch constituencies director.
“While the Governor puts his political career first by waging culture war battles, it is Florida’s children and parents who rely on our public education system to help them succeed that continue to suffer.”
DeSantis has pushed for teachers’ raises during his time as Governor. But the Florida Education Association (FEA) estimates 450,000 Florida students started the school year last August without full-time, certified teachers in their classrooms and the numbers have kept getting worse.
The state FEA estimates there are 9,500 vacant teaching positions. A report from the state Department of Education earlier this year found that there are currently 4,489 teacher vacancies and even that was an increase of 800 from the year before.
Schools’ staffing shortages are plaguing schools throughout the country, however. And Florida’s teachers’ low salaries, the culprit identified in the FEA’s February report, is hardly a draw.
The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, ranked all the states by teachers’ starting salary and average salary in May. For starting salary, Florida was 16th in the country, with an average of $44,040. But the state is 48th for its average teacher salary, which is $51,009.
The FEA also identified “lack of support” and “lack of flexibility in instruction” as culprits No. 2 and 3 in the teacher shortage.
Andrew Spar, president of the FEA, said he wouldn’t blame what DeSantis Watch is calling the culture war legislation for the shortage, entirely.
“I don’t think it’s helping by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
He sees the vilification of teachers as part of the problem driving teacher shortages. And also bad policy passed year after year that involves how teachers are paid, evaluated and the amount of freedom they have to teach as they see fit.
Friday’s DeSantis Watch news release also pointed out that Moms for Liberty have become an organization dedicated to promoting a far-right agenda. The Florida-based nonprofit has led the fight to ban books, stop the honest teaching of history and attack the rights of LBGTQ families, the release says.
No one from the administration immediately returned a Florida Politics inquiry on DeSantis Watch’s release, “Ron’s Focus on Culture Wars Driving the Teacher Shortage.”