Duval County, among many other Florida counties, is experiencing a crisis as schools prepare to resume in less than one month. A major teacher shortage will leave classrooms without experienced educators, potentially overcrowded and continuing to build upon the detrimental educational impacts of the COVID pandemic.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers, citing low salaries, new laws dictating curriculum and fatigue. The Florida Education Association (FEA) states there are nearly 10,000 vacancies state-wide and here locally, according to a July 5 report by Times-Union reporter Emily Bloch, Duval County Public Schools has 529 vacancies for certified teachers, a 23 percent increase from 2021.
The district is so desperate for teachers right now, they are accepting applications from any person who has a bachelor’s degree and are waiving the requirements for certification. This is not the answer. Placing unqualified personnel in a classroom with absolutely no educational background or teaching experience will only exacerbate the damaging impacts of the pandemic on education.
On Aug. 23, voters have an opportunity to help mitigate this crisis. With low salaries being one of the primary complaints of current teachers and teachers leaving their careers, a 1-mill increase will allow our public-school educators to be compensated more fairly and competitively, helping to retain and recruit qualified and experienced teachers.
While Florida ranks No. 16 in the country for starting pay, the average pay for teachers in the Sunshine State remains near the bottom, at 48th in the U.S., according to FEA. We can and must do better for our teachers and prioritize the education of our children through this measure.
This is why I am voting YES on the Aug. 23 referendum to increase the current millage rate for public school funding. A majority of the increase (75 percent) will be used directly to compensate teachers with a salary increase, something they both need and deserve. It’s also an initiative that will have immediate and long-term positive impacts on our community, state and country. We must pass this referendum — our future depends on it.
Travis Akers, Jacksonville
Federal lymphedema bill gains ground
I want to let the people in the Jacksonville area know about the Lymphedema Treatment Act (HR 3630/S 1315), a bill that has been unanimously passed out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
The Lymphedema Treatment Act provides a correction to the Medicare statute that will eliminate a gap in coverage for prescribed medical compression supplies that are vital to lymphedema treatment.
Providing this benefit is also consistent with health care priorities of the current Congress, including: addressing healthcare disparities, improving care for cancer patients and other chronic conditions, making Medicare coverage more comprehensive and lowering prescription costs.
There is no pharmaceutical treatment for lymphedema. Doctor-prescribed medical compression garments are the treatment used daily by lymphedema patients to manage their disease, just as prescription drugs are essential to the management of other chronic diseases.
An abundance of studies and real-world data have demonstrated that without access to prescribed compression supplies patients suffer from a significantly higher rate of complications, many of which require urgent medical care or hospitalization.
Further, a recent savings analysis from Avalere Health estimated that enactment of the Lymphedema Treatment Act will save the Medicare program $1.3 to $1.5 billion during the first 10 years, with additional savings likely, and also result in significant saving to Medicaid programs and private insurers.
I measure lymphedema patients for these garments daily at In the Pink. Most are not covered by their insurance policies, though this is the standard treatment for maintenance of this lifelong condition.
Congress must close this harmful and wasteful coverage gap this year. Please contact your representatives now to ensure that this important legislation becomes law during the 117th Congress.
Jeri Millard is the owner of In the Pink, a Jacksonville Beach boutique for women living with cancer.
Another YES vote for millage
Now that many residents have received mail-in ballots, please make sure to vote YES on the 1-mill tax to benefit schools. The most recent vote that allotted money for schools was for building maintenance on some of the oldest school buildings in the state. This is entirely different and for four years only, when it could again come up for another vote.
It is anticipated that the 1-mill tax would bring in about $81.8 million a year. Of that, 75 percent would be used to supplement teacher salaries, 12.5 percent would go to charter schools, and 12.5 percent to enhance important art, music, and athletic programs.
Here are some specific reasons to vote yes:
- In February 2017, Duval schools were short 183 certified teachers. Five years later, in February 2022, the shortage had increased to 466, with about 600 or more vacancies anticipated for the beginning of school in the coming months.
- In order to entice new teachers, the minimum state salary for a brand-new teacher is almost the same as that of a 17-year teacher. Research has shown that students benefit from experienced teachers and right now Duval is 58th out of 69 districts in Florida for average years of experience.
Currently 20 counties in Florida have passed millage referendums to provide additional support to their schools. Yes, it’s asking a lot with current high inflation, but it is imperative that we become the 21st to pass a referendum. The consequences of not supporting our Duval schools are far too important at this time and will reach far into the future, reflecting badly on Jacksonville.
Rhoda T. London, retired classroom teacher, adjunct professor
‘Parental Rights’ bill won’t help anyone
Maggie Barker’s July 23 letter regarding public education raised the most important issues dominating the current dialogue, while Jennifer York’s guest column of political talking points was more like an endorsement for Gov. DeSantis.
Florida’s Constitution compels a high-quality, free public-school education; the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause requires equal access for all students. It’s no secret that conservatives and Gov. DeSantis seem bent on destroying public schools, replacing them with tax-dollar-supported private charter schools. Three Opinion letters on July 24 also took issue with both the questionable quality and opaque — yet profitable — financial operating practices of charters at the expense of public schools.
Mrs. York, a fellow Ponte Vedra resident, must be aware that the quality of public-school systems is most often dependent on the affluence of the county. St. Johns is fortunate in this regard; other counties – not so much. Gov. DeSantis has not improved Florida’s growing teacher shortage and his agenda has caused significantly declining teacher morale.
His early COVID policy decisions for schools, made before the related science was fully known, were politically and economically prioritized. In the end, his “Parental Rights” bill will ultimately not benefit students, parents or teachers.
Michael Miller, Ponte Vedra Beach
Snail mail fail
Never, in my many trips around the sun, have I seen such incompetence in the U.S. Postal Service as we have today. Since February, I have had three small checks fail to reach their local destinations, one of them being returned to me after two months. The others were never received and have not been cashed. They are in a trash can somewhere, I assume. Then, a note sent to a correct address in Michigan came back after four weeks.
When I posted about this on social media recently, I got overwhelming affirmation that this is a widespread problem. A friend who is retired from the post office told me many workers cannot even read cursive handwriting, which is not particularly their fault. That’s a failure of the education system and a letter for another day. But now I do make sure I print all envelopes.
Snail mail is pathetic, and I hear that USPS workers actually make good salaries (with even better retirements).
Bonnie Allen, Jacksonville
Vegan diet has drawbacks, too
I read with interest the July 23 letter from a doctor who suggests that people should try the vegan diet. The doctor goes on to say that there are many health benefits to the vegan diet, but also, he is disappointed that many people are not willing to take his advice.
This diet, like so many others, can certainly have health benefits in the short term because they promote weight loss. However, I have talked to numerous doctors who have taken their patients off the vegan diet for the long-term health concerns it creates.
The key to a sustainable healthy diet is eating a variety of foods and learning how to eat in moderation, coupled with moderate exercise. We need to remember that food is meant to be enjoyed, along with fellowship around the dinner table. There is no reason we can’t do that.
Calvin Johnson, Jacksonville
Nate got it right on Rutherford
Many years ago, when John Rutherford was running for the House of Representatives, he attended our men’s Bible study at Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra. He was well received and we were glad to have him. Based upon his performance in Washington, it was a terrible mistake and I couldn’t agree more with what Nate Monroe wrote on July 20 regarding Rutherford’s conduct, which is disgraceful.
I was a Republican for 40 years, but with the election of Donald Trump and the sycophants around him I am now an Independent. I just want to thank you for your well-written articles on so many issues. You are a credit to the profession of journalism, and I look forward to your articles and opinions every week.
David B. Lee, Jr., Ponte Vedra
Rutherford’s career in a nutshell
Nate Monroe’s July 20 column about U.S. Congressman John Rutherford was extremely accurate and summarized the career of a Republican rubber stamp who fully recognizes he occupies a safe gerrymandered seat.
He has not held one open meeting with his constituents since being elected in 2016 and seems to obediently vote as directed by his Republican handlers. I guess he has realized that to be elected in his district there are apparently just two requirements: an R next to your name on the ballot and a heartbeat. The voters in his district deserve better.
Edward Warren, Ponte Vedra Beach
Photographer’s son says ‘thanks’
Thank you, Matt Soergel, for the July 19 article on my father, Grover C. Henley. I appreciate the pictures and the well-written article.
Grover C. Henley, Jr., Jacksonville