TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida’s teacher shortage, now a multi-year issue due to a variety of factors, has prompted state leaders and lawmakers to search for solutions amid a bustling migration movement to the Sunshine State.

A new piece of legislation drafted to help solve this problem, and signed off on by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, allows veterans to substitute their time in the service as one qualification for work as teachers or mentors and receive a temporary certificate to do so. The law, Senate Bill 896, is titled “Educator Certification Pathway for Veterans.”

While some of the online conversation surrounding the law in recent weeks has centered on a social media post allegedly about a military veteran’s spouse using their marriage as part of their teaching qualification, Florida law does not let military spouses suddenly teach without relevant experience, qualification, or training.

What does the new law do?

To address shortages and provide new opportunities to Florida’s military service members and veterans, as well as some of their family members, should they be qualified, the Florida Department of Education will allow military service to qualify for some requirements for teaching in the public school system.

Some of the confusion by those criticizing the bill may come from statements made when DeSantis signed the bill, along with five others, while at an event in Fort Walton Beach.

Discussing the legislative efforts approved by the governor and signed at the event, Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard Major General James O. Eifert made a statement on the various laws’ effects.

“I’d like to thank the Legislature and Governor DeSantis for all they’ve done for the Soldiers and Airmen of the Florida National Guard,” Eifert said in June. “These bills will go a long way to help our citizen soldiers and their spouses have opportunities for meaningful employment. Solid career opportunities lead to a well-rounded and ready force, and a stable home environment prepares our Guardsmen and their families for deployments, to include disaster response.”

Part of the support for soldiers and their spouses has to do less with providing teaching jobs directly, and more that spouses of veterans are able to apply for a waiver on certification fees. The state’s education department has a program which is intended to assist veterans with their certification process.

Called the Military Veterans Certification Pathway, in similar verbiage to SB 896, veterans in Florida may receive a “5-year Temporary Certificate” to teach, even if they are still in the process of earning their bachelor’s degrees. However, the certification pathway requires certain experience from the veterans to qualify.

For military veterans who do not yet have their bachelor’s degrees, the Florida Department of Education lists the program requirements as:

  • Minimum of 48 months of active duty military service with an honorable/medical discharge
  • Minimum of 60 college credits with a 2.5 grade point average
  • Passing score on a Florida subject area examination for bachelor’s level subjects which demonstrate mastery of subject area knowledge
  • Employment in a Florida school district, including charter schools

Even then, before the pathway to certification can be applied for, the veterans must also complete a Military Certification Fees Waiver request to have the fees paid for. As of July 1, 2018, when the Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Military Family Opportunity Act took effect, “active duty military personnel, honorably discharged veterans and their spouses or surviving spouses” can have fees for certification and certification exams waived, dependent on certain conditions.

What about military veterans’ spouses?

Concerning the spouses of military veterans, a 2018 Florida law allows military personnel, veterans and their spouses to join the state’s education profession, allowing for some fees to be waived as a result of their military service or marriage to a military personnel member or veteran.

For “educator candidates” to attempt receiving these waivers, candidates must apply for a Military Certification Fees Waiver and have the following credentials:

  • Active duty service members of the U.S. Armed Forces or reserve unit;
  • The spouses of active duty service members of the U.S. Armed Forces or reserve unit;
  • Veterans who were honorably discharged or retired from service as members of the U.S. Armed Forces or reserve units;
  • The spouses of veterans who were honorably discharged or retired from service as members of the U.S. Armed Forces or reserve units; or
  • The surviving spouses of veterans or service members who died while on active duty as members of the U.S. Armed Forces or reserve units.

According to the education department, to complete a waiver request, the educator candidate is required to:

  • Submit the waiver request via the Military Certification Fees Waiver site on or after July 1, 2018;
  • Upload official documentation for review to determine that you meet the qualification requirements for MCFW eligibility; and,
  • Wait to submit any payments until after you receive email notification that you are eligible for an MCFW;
  • On or after July 1, 2018, submit your application for an Educator’s Certificate or register for a certification exam.

Should the waiver request be approved, it will remain valid for up to five years after eligibility is confirmed. The temporary certificates for teaching or mentorship while working toward a degree lasts for two years, according to the text of SB 896.

Still, the text of the bill does also say that the Florida Board of Education will waive some requirements for “honorably discharged veteran of the United States Armed Forces or a veteran of a reserve component thereof and the spouse or surviving spouse of such a veteran.”

The requirements that may be waived, as of July 1, 2022, according to SB 896, are:

  • Initial general knowledge
  • Professional education
  • Subject area examination fees
  • Certification fees

Candidates must still be able to show “subject area content requirements” and be able to “demonstrate mastery of subject area knowledge” in addition to their military service record, which must still include 48 months of active service with honorable discharge or medical separation. Requirements also still include a minimum GPA of 2.5 and 60 college credits from an accredited institution of higher learning, or a nonaccredited institution of higher learning identified by the Florida Department of Education which has “a quality program resulting in a bachelor’s degree or higher.”

Following proof of meeting the above requirements, candidates must still have an assigned teacher mentor for at least two years after beginning their employment in the teaching position. The teacher mentors are chosen by school districts and must have a “valid professional certificate” as issued for state requirements, as well as three years teaching in Pre-K through 12th grade, and “an effective or highly effective rating” on their prior year’s teaching evaluation.

It is unclear exactly what the practice for determining the quality of program from a nonaccredited institution is. WFLA.com has reached out to the Florida Department of Education for an explanation.