Florida has commanded substantial attention in the U.S. media recently due to a series of controversial new laws spearheaded by Governor Ron DeSantis. These laws have sharply divided public opinion across the nation.
The state’s education system has become a focal point of these legal changes, particularly with the introduction of what is colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” laws. These legislations explicitly prohibit educators from discussing topics related to sexual orientation or gender identity with children from kindergarten through third grade.
Additionally, there has been a notable pushback against the inclusion of critical race theory in the curriculum, which critically examines the role of race in American society. Consequently, many teachers in Florida are encountering increasing challenges in delivering their lessons.
Governor DeSantis has made no effort to hide his disdain for what he often refers to as “woke” culture. Educational institutions, especially those in higher education, have traditionally served as fertile ground for progressive ideas, a stance vehemently opposed by the governor.
Through a combination of legislative measures and strategic appointments to college boards, DeSantis is gradually asserting greater influence over Florida’s universities.
The Results Are Far From Expected
Florida colleges and universities are experiencing what many call a “brain drain.” Skilled educators are fleeing the state in pursuit of jobs where they have more academic liberty. As a result, schools within the tropical state are struggling to fill teaching posts.
Prior to DeSantis taking office, the state had around 2,000 vacancies. That number has more than doubled, with 5,294 vacancies as of January 2023. At one school alone, New College of Florida, sixty-four of a hundred educator jobs were left empty this Fall.
The risk of losing their licenses for teaching something in a way that might violate one of DeSantis’ many new restrictions has created an atmosphere of fear. A New College of Florida faculty member described the current level of governmental control as “chilling and terrifying” and took a position at St. Mary’s College in Maryland instead.
No Longer Feeling Welcome
The new laws have also banned funding of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at any publicly funded Florida college or university.
One gay couple decided to look for positions elsewhere once they saw the tide changing. James Pascoe, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Florida, saw the signs early on. “It was becoming clear that the university was becoming politicized,” he shared with The Guardian.
During his application to other schools, the state continued to pass restrictive laws. “When I was waiting to hear back on job applications, they started passing all these vaguely anti-gay, anti-LGBTQ+ laws. The state didn’t seem to be a good place for us to live in anymore.” By the summer of 2022, Pascoe and his partner found jobs in Philadelphia.
Some educators are choosing to retire early rather than put up with the new laws. “For the first time, I’ve actually started talking to my investment guy about retirement,” Michael Woods, a Florida public school teacher working in exceptional education, told Vanity Fair. “I’m a 30-year veteran who showed up every day, hardly calls in sick, but now I don’t want to be a teacher in Florida.”
Kenneth Nunn, one of the few Black faculty members of the University of Florida’s law school, retired rather than stay in a place where critical race theory was being “denigrated and attacked”. He has since relocated to Washington DC to serve as a visiting professor at Howard University.
Many parents are feeling the effects of the teacher shortage. Reagan Miller, a parent of two children attending Florida Public Schools, complained about the lack of educators. “We had substitutes for three, four months of the year. We had a teacher who taught advanced math at our middle school for years and years—he just left to go be a 911 operator,” she said to Vanity Fair, “which blows my mind that becoming a 911 operator would be less stressful than being a teacher.”
All of this educational upheaval will surely reshape Florida’s academic landscape for years to come. Teaching has always been an underappreciated yet tremendously essential aspect of society. Florida could find itself in an emergency situation if the state’s leadership doesn’t find a way to retain its educators at every level.
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This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching. Source.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.