Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday doubled down on his $603 million proposal to raise the state’s starting teacher salary to $47,500 a year – making it the nation’s second-highest – but balked at supporting across-the-board pay hikes for all school employees as proposed by the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union.
“Let’s not pretend there’s not politics involved with this,” DeSantis said of FEA’s $2.4-billion “down payment” plan. “It’s just the fact of the matter. I’m a Republican. They’re not. What I’m doing is never going to be enough. My job is not to do what the union wants – it’s what I think is best for education and, particularly, for individual teachers.”
The governor’s proposed teacher pay hike could face procedural and jurisdictional challenges, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, warned.
Teacher contracts, including salaries, are negotiated by school boards of individual school districts at the local level, not by state officials in Tallahassee.
“There are some policy discussions that have to take place to determine whether or not we want to step into the area of the local governments,” Galvano said. “So while there’s a shared commitment, the details and the numbers and how it might work and if it will work have yet to be determined.”
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, has already expressed reservations about DeSantis’ plans, noting the state faces an $867 million decline in projected revenues this year and next.
DeSantis and Galvano outlined their 2020 legislative agendas Tuesday during the Associated Press’s annual Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee.
The governor addressed environmental spending, disaster relief, health care and reiterated his mission to make 2020 “the year of the teacher” in Florida by offering pay raises to 101,000 of the state’s 180,000 teachers by establishing a $47,500 minimum salary.
According to the National Education Association (NEA), the average starting salary for Florida teachers in 2017-18 was $37,636 a year, ranking the state 27th nationally.
If DeSantis’ $10,000 boost is approved, it would not only be the nation’s second-highest starting teacher salary, but it would exceed the state’s current average teacher salary of $45,947, the fourth-lowest pay rate for teachers in the nation, which is why more than half of Florida’s practicing teachers would see pay raises.
“Teachers starting in places like Miami and Broward at 40, 41-ish [thousand], those are pretty tough places to get by on that. So, that’ll be a relief for them,” he said. “Then you have other places, some of the rural communities where they may not have as big a pool of people, all of a sudden, that’s going to be more attractive.”
Poor pay is a top-cited reason while 40 percent of Florida’s new teachers leave the classroom within five years, according to the FEA, and why more than 300,000 Florida children are being taught by temporary substitutes this year as districts scramble to fill 3,500 teaching vacancies statewide.
The FEA maintains DeSantis’ $600 million proposal is about a quarter of the $2.4 billion necessary to finance a 10-percent pay increase for every public school employee, which would improve recruitment as well as retention.
The governor’s proposal does little for the state’s 70,000 veteran teachers and other school professionals, the union maintains.
Its $2.4 billion proposal is a “downpayment” for a 10-year, $22-billion plan the FEA is touting in a statewide bus tour.
DeSantis dismissed FEA’s criticism that his proposal only benefits starting teachers, noting more than 100,000 will receive raises.
“So I think it’s a really good tool to be able to recruit new teachers,” he said, “while it’s also, obviously, able to help some of those who are not making a lot.”
DeSantis, who vowed upon assuming office last January to “erase all vestiges” of Common Core, said a replacement for the state’s K–12 students will be released by year’s end.
It will include “a civics component,” he said. “We’re looking at potentially having high school seniors take the citizenship exam, or something similar to that, prior to graduation.”