TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Since June, a teaching initiative aimed at putting military veterans into classrooms has had hundreds of applications. Despite that, only seven veterans have entered Florida schools from the program.

Following a new program approved by the legislature and supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida veterans can apply through a special certification program to be teachers in a push to help address shortages at schools across the state.

The Florida Department of Education says there is only a small number of teaching vacancies in the state, but the number of applications for the program is smaller.

The program, the Military Veterans Certification Pathway, was established in June and took effect upon signing.

“The Department has received over 500 applications for this pathway, which are being processed on a first-come first-served basis just like all applications received by the Bureau of Educator Certification,” an FLDOE spokesperson told WFLA.com. “Currently, there are seven veterans teaching via this pathway in the following school districts, and we expect many more will be in the classroom within the coming year.”

According to state data, there were 4,442 vacancies in Florida’s school districts as of Sept. 1, equal to “2.4% of teaching positions, which is also around 1.2 open positions per school on average.” Overall, the state currently has 185,000 teachers in classrooms, according to FLDOE.

As far as the application process goes, FLDOE said once applications for certification, the application goes into a queue for review. When the application comes up for review, BEC staff members process the application to make sure the applicant meets all of the requirements and is eligible via the pathway.

In cases where an application is incomplete, FLDOE said BEC works with the prospective candidates to find out what is still needed to finish the application. Sometimes that means the candidates have to take “additional subject area exams or uploading complete transcript documents.”

The law, Senate Bill 896, set up eligibility requirements similar to normal teacher certifications for the state, though different in other ways.

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

Candidates who successfully earn their certification get a temporary five year certification.

“The purpose of this new pathway was to value the unique experience military service provides while simply offering additional time for these veterans to obtain a bachelor’s degree and other requirements to receive a full professional educator certification,” FLDOE said. “It upholds Florida’s standards for educator certification and requires veterans to demonstrate subject area mastery,” which the department described as “crucial for providing high-quality instruction to students.”

The GPA requirement for veterans is identical to non-Pathway teachers who, by law, are required to have a minimum of a 2.5 GPA, or a C+ average, to teach in Florida.

“The 2.5 grade point average requirement in the Military Veterans Certification Pathway,” FLDOE said. The requirement “is identical to the grade point requirement in the traditional pathway,” which are set in state statutes.

While the number of veterans now teaching is significantly lower than the number of applications submitted, FLDOE said the difference is not due to lack of qualified candidates, but rather is somewhat a result of timing.

“An actual certificate is not issued to any candidate until they are hired by a school district or charter school and pass the required Level 2 background screening,” FLDOE said. “Therefore, just because over 500 applications have been received by the BEC, this does not mean that all applications have been reviewed, nor does it mean the applications contain all the required documents.”

The veterans who made it through the certification program are now teaching in Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Okaloosa, Manatee, Monroe, and Volusia counties.

Applications for the program are still open, for Florida veterans interested in applying. FLDOE said that despite “a false media narrative suggesting the Military Veterans Pathway was created to ‘fix’ a teacher shortage,” the program is instead “to support military veterans in finding employment as teachers in Florida.”