TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — “We’ll eliminate the entire backlog in 120 days,” declared Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran more than 120 days ago. Four months later, Commissioner Corcoran wants Florida to know that he’s kept that promise.
In a press release issued by the Florida Department of Education Tuesday morning, Corcoran announced that his department had cleared up its significant backlog of teacher certification applications.
According to the release, on January 21st, the Department had a backlog of 31,666 applications that needed to be reviewed and evaluated. More than 15,000 of those educator applications had been in stuck in the state system of delay for more than the state’s 90-day statutory limit.
“It is simply unacceptable to keep our teachers and schools waiting,” Commissioner Corcoran stated in a press release on Tuesday. According to the release, staff had until close of business on May 21st to process backlogged applications but managed to do it by May 14, working nights and weekends at time, according to the state.
One of those applications belonged to Krystal Justice in Clearwater. Krystal has been working as a teacher for the past 3 years on a temporary certificate. In August, her temporary certification expires which is why she applied for her permanent certification last summer. Due to some confusion with her application, she says, the state didn’t start processing her application until January. By April, she contacted Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone in a panic.
“Florida’s marked me as one of their best and brightest and yet they won’t look at my application,” she told us during an interview in April.
If the state didn't process and approve her application to teach in time, the mother of three was facing unemployment.
“I love this job and I don’t want to leave it,” she told us last month. “But I face the stark reality that I have to take care for my 3 children and that might mean having to leave this career. I don’t want to do that,” she said.
Earlier this year Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone broke the story of how the state’s education department was sitting on thousands of teacher applications. Her findings prompted a statewide admission of failures. In January, prior to the planned broadcast of LaGrone’s investigative report. Commissioner Corcoran issued a state press release acknowledging the backlog and vowing to clear it within the next 120 days. He called the delays in processing “unreasonable” and the result of “inefficiency.”
As part of the state's fix, Corcoran addressed a leadership deficit in the Bureau of Educator Certification. He also reassigned staff to focus on application processing duties. In addition, he allowed school districts priority in processing the applications of teachers who were already teaching and effective in classrooms.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Krystal Justice when describing the frustrations of waiting. According to the state, Krystal’s teacher application was finally processed and approved on April 30th. Ironically, that was four days after we contacted the state and asked them about the status of her application.
According to the state, applications are back to being processed within 90 days. A department goal is to have teacher applications processed within 60 days and, eventually, 30 days.