Gov. DeSantis pushes for nearly $1 billion for FL public school teacher pay increases. But will it happen?

Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday proposed a nearly $1 billion teacher pay package, including a newly revamped teacher bonus program of $300 million that would be on top of some $600 million to boost minimum salaries for teachers.

“This is the most far reaching robust package that has ever been offered in this state for a long, long time,” DeSantis said while speaking at Vero Beach High School in Indian River County.

Where all the money would come from remains a question, and lawmakers would have to sign off on the pay increases when the Legislature convenes in January.

Meanwhile, teacher unions aren’t big fans of “bonus” programs, instead favoring regular, across-the-board salary hikes.

“Teachers and all school employees should be paid fair, competitive salaries,” Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said in a written statement. “Our educators do not want another bonus scheme, especially not one built on the back of a flawed school grading system. Bonuses don’t help you qualify for a mortgage; they can’t be counted on from year to year.”

He added: “Florida has tried six bonus programs in the past 13 years. Meanwhile, we face a severe teacher shortage along with shortages of other school employees. Why do we continue to throw money at a failed concept? State dollars would be better spent on an effective strategy for recruiting and retaining educators — overall salary increases.”

The statewide FEA is pushing for investing billions more for public schools over the next decade, with raises for teachers and staff and money for other programs. The 10-year price tag would be $22 billion through 2030, starting with $2.4 billion for public education in the next state budget.

DeSantis’ proposals come as teachers here and around the country are pushing, protesting, and striking for higher pay.

With a trillion-dollar economy and one of the largest student populations in the nation, Florida’s average salary for public school teachers is just $48,168. That ranks Florida as 46th among all states and the District of Columbia, based on 2017-18 statistics from the National Education Association.

The Florida Department of Education’s data for 2018-19 show an average of $48,486 for some 176,000 school teachers. The median figure was lower, $45,947.

“It is an embarrassment for the state of Florida how we treat our educators,” FEA president Ingram said earlier.

“We cannot continue to educate our children on the cheap. That is not right for our kids. That’s not right for our parents. And that’s not what we want for the future of Florida.”

The idea of nearly $1 billion for teacher pay increases is not new – Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum last year proposed a $1 billion initiative to shore up public schools and increase both starting and veteran teacher salaries.

Gillum had proposed to raise the corporate tax rate from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent to allow the state to pay teachers a starting salary of $50,000 and help boost average salaries for teachers whose pay is already well below the national average. The salary increases, he said, would likely be phased in over five years.

Earlier this fall, DeSantis opted to propose a minimum starting salary of $47,500, beginning in the 2020-21 academic year, which would be one of the highest starting salaries for teachers in the nation. Tens of thousands of Florida teachers would get raises under that scenario.

Thursday, the governor moved on to Part 2: A new teacher and principal bonus program that would be an improvement over the “Best and Brightest” program used to reward teachers.

The new $300-million package would have a three-tier approach for funding  bonuses, based on a number of factors, and the bonus program would focus on keeping teachers and principals at schools with large populations of low-income students. Those are usually called Title 1 schools.

The bonuses for teachers would range from up to $1,000 to $7,500 at Title I schools, and $500 to $3,700 at non-Title 1 schools.

Principal bonuses would range from up to $2,500 to $10,000 at Title I schools, and $1,250 to $5,000 for non-Title 1 schools.

United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernández-Mats said in written statement: “We are appreciative of the fact that Gov. DeSantis has been listening to our message and that he has shown a concerted effort to keep this dialogue going but, as we have said in the past, the devil is in the details.”

She added, “It still remains unclear how this promising, but massive, overhaul will be paid for; how it will affect pay for our veteran teachers; how it will account for education equity across the board; and how it will be sustainable in the future. We look forward to hearing more about the governor’s proposition and long-term plan as we move into the 2020 legislative session.”