Florida Dems push for 7.5 percent raises for all school staff, not just teachers

Florida Capitol
The 22-story Florida Capitol towers over the old Historic Capitol. Credit: Diane Rado

Florida Senate Democrats unveiled a plan on Monday that could boost pay for all teachers and other school personnel by 7.5 percent in the next year.

The proposal (SB 1854) is a counter to Gov. Ron DeSantis initiative to increase starting teacher pay to $47,500 a year beginning in the next school year.

The issue will be one of the most compelling in the legislative session in Florida, drawing national attention.

Senate Democratic leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville said the Republican governor’s plan could put veteran teachers at a financial disadvantage and it leaves out raises for many other school employees, ranging from bus drivers to media specialists to cafeteria workers.

Instead, the Democrats want to take the $600 million that DeSantis has proposed for the first-year salary increases and another $300 million the governor wants for a revamped bonus program and put into a pay package for teachers and other school personnel.

It would include a 3 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers and other workers as well as an across-the-board 4.5 percent salary increase in the 2020-21 school year, which begins July 1. The proposal, if it became law, would provide similar annual increases over the next decade.

“Our plan rewards everyone and leaves no one out,” Gibson said.

Democrats also said they preferred funding for a salary increase for teachers rather than another bonus plan.

“It’s not a bonus program that a teacher can’t take to a mortgage company and apply for a mortgage,” said Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee on Monday unanimously supported a bill (SB 1088) that outlines a plan to earmark funds in the annual state budget for teacher pay increases, but is short on details.

But Sen. Manny Diaz, the Miami-Dade County Republican who is sponsoring the measure, said the issue is “complex” and the details will be left to Senate and House leaders as they work out a new state budget for 2020-21 in the final days of the 2020 session, which begins Tuesday.

“This is all going to depend on how much money we have. We don’t make that decision here,” Diaz said. “This allows for that conversation to take place with maximum flexibility.”

Justin Katz, a Palm Beach County high school teacher, raised the issue of veteran teachers versus first-year teachers under the governor’s pay proposal.

“The idea of raising first-year teacher salaries has many of us concerned…because it means if you’re above a certain threshold you will get no raise,” Katz said.

After teaching nearly a dozen years, Katz said he makes $47,350 a year and would be in line for a $150 raise under the governor’s plan, while the salaries for first-year teachers in Palm Beach County would see a $6,500 adjustment.

Diaz acknowledged the challenge of raising starting salaries to attract more top-level teachers into the profession, while rewarding veteran teachers.

“What do you do about salary compression for those who have been in the profession working hard and serving our kids and our state?” he asked.

“Obviously, the devil is going to be in the details,” said Sen. Lori Berman, a Palm Beach County Democrat who voted for Diaz’s bill. “We’re going to have to see how the money is allocated because we want to make sure that we respect teachers who have been here for a longer period of time.”