With Florida governor Ron DeSantis's new laws limiting academic freedom and oppressive political oversight of state universities, there is an alarming shortage of college-level teachers in the state. The Guardian reports that DeSantis stacked the board of trustees of one college, the New College of Florida, with anti-"woke" political appointees, who quickly fired the college's president. As of mid-July, more than 1/3 of the college's full-time teaching positions for the coming academic year were vacant.
One educator who resigned because of the new laws and the college's new trustees is Liz Leininger, an associate professor of neurobiology.
"All of the legislation surrounding higher education in Florida is chilling and terrifying," said Leininger, who is rejoining the biology department at St Mary's College in Maryland this fall where she had been teaching before moving to central Florida. "Imagine scientists who are studying climate change, imagine an executive branch that denies climate change – they could use these laws to intimidate or dismiss those scientists."
The new laws have introduced a ban on the funding of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Florida's public colleges and universities, withdrawn a right to arbitration formerly guaranteed to faculty members who have been denied tenure or face dismissal, and prohibited the teaching of critical race theory, which contends that inherent racial bias pervades many laws and institutions in western society, among other changes.
In the face of that and other legislation backed by DeSantis and Republican lawmakers that has rolled back the rights of Florida's LGBTQ+ community, many scholars across the state are taking early retirement, voting with their feet by accepting job offers outside Florida or simply throwing in the towel with a letter of resignation.
Florida also faces the worst K-12 teacher shortage in the country, reports Fox 13 News.
Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, said there are roughly 8,000 teachers and 6,000 support staff vacancies across the state. Spar blames the political climate for causing classroom controversies and low salaries, with Florida ranking 48th in the nation in average teacher pay.
The Guardian reports that Florida teachers are feeling under attack.
Florida teachers are feeling anxious, confused and beaten down by new laws, championed by DeSantis, that limit how issues of race can be taught, what teachers can say about sex, especially about homosexuality, and what books are permitted in schools. In promoting this legislation, DeSantis angered many teachers when he denounced "indoctrination in our schools" and let his press secretary accuse teachers of "grooming" students.
In interviews with the Guardian, Florida teachers said they're feeling more disrespected, unappreciated and under attack than ever before, worried that they'll be fired or otherwise punished if they run afoul of the controversial – and often vague – new laws. As a result of these laws and their emboldening parents to challenge and even castigate teachers, many Florida teachers say they're considering either giving up teaching or finding a teaching job in another state – all when Florida, which ranks 48th among states in teacher pay according to a recent study, is already suffering from a shortage of 5,300 teachers.
The new laws provide for felony charges to be brought against teachers deemed to have run afoul of their vague provisions prohibiting certain discussion of race or LGBTQ issues.
Brandt Robinson, a high school history teacher in Palm Harbor, said, "The point is intimidation."
For 15 years, Robinson has had a personal library in his classroom with hundreds of books. "They're there as a model of interest in books – world history, African American history, American history, classics," Robinson said. "Now I have to worry that if a student uses a book, someone might say the book is an example of critical race theory, and I'll face a possible third-degree felony."