Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fiscal 2021 budget request includes a proposed $603 million package for pay raises for 101,000 of the state’s 180,000 teachers and to establish a new minimum teacher salary of $47,500.
School district superintendents lobbied on behalf of the governor’s initiative before the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Thursday.
“Beginning teacher salary in Jackson County is just a little over $34,000,” Jackson County Superintendent Larry Moore said.
“In Osceola County, should we raise all of our salaries to a minimum of $47,500, 64 percent of our teachers would earn a raise,” Osceola County Superintendent Debra Pace told the panel.
St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson said his district’s starting teacher salary is $39,000.
“It had been $38,000 in starting pay for the last 12 years,” he added. “This is the first year we negotiated a $1,000 move forward in starting pay.”
Sarasota County Superintendent Todd Bowden said his district’s starting teacher salary is $44,300 although “902 of our instructional personnel do not currently earn [the minimum teacher salary] – about 31 percent of our teachers.”
Florida’s current starting teacher salary is 46th nationally and its average teacher salary of $48,168 in 2018 ranked it 46th in the nation, according to the National Education Association (NEA), while Florida ranks 47th in financial website WalletHub’s “Best and Worst States for Teachers” survey.
Poor pay is a top-cited reason while 40 percent of Florida’s new teachers leave the classroom within five years, according to the Florida Education Association (FEA), which notes the ratio is nearly 20 percent above the national average.
As a result, the FEA maintains, more than 300,000 Florida children are being taught by temporary substitutes this year as districts scramble to fill 3,500 teaching vacancies statewide.
If lawmakers fully fund DeSantis’ budget request, Florida’s starting teacher salary would go from 46th to second-best in the nation, according to the NEA, which Bowden told the subcommittee could create an unanticipated conundrum in fairly compensating experienced teachers who now earn less than $47,500,
Bowden said increasing the starting teacher salary from $44,300 to $47,500 would cost Sarasota schools $1.8 million, but bumping all salaries by $3,200 – or 7.2 percent – would cost the district about $14.6 million.
Osceola’s Pace said the salary boost will help districts find and keep good teachers.
“Teacher recruitment and retention, as well as recruitment and retention of high-quality school leaders, is the most significant challenge that I see facing local school boards and local school superintendents,” she said.
Pace said every year since she became superintendent in 2016, the district has been engaged in “this kind of a continuous process of identifying and implementing ways to reduce operational costs and demonstrate fiscal responsibility to our taxpayers.”
Before the current school year, Pace said, she was asked to find operational cuts to maker money available for teacher salaries.
“It ended up that we made some really good reductions, but these are not easy decisions to make,” she said, adding the proposed salary increase would help break that cycle of cutting costs elsewhere.
St. John’s Forson said his rural county does not generate the property tax revenues to offer competitive teacher salaries without state subsidy.
“We are disproportionately residential. We absolutely are light industry, some farming in the south and western part of the county,” he said. “I say that because it creates a new challenge to teachers as you’re hiring teachers, and that is there’s not a lot of affordable housing in St. Johns County, not a lot of rental housing, for someone who comes in right out of college and is making that starting teacher rate.”