Not every district can deliver the promise of $47,500 salaries for starting teachers this year

Teacher in her classroom
Teacher in her classroom. Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images

Gov. Ron DeSantis has lauded a half-billion-dollar initiative to bring beginning teacher salaries to $47,500 and boost pay for experienced teachers.

But the reality is that not every district will be able to deliver the promise of salaries of $47,500 to starting teachers this year or even the next.

The initiative has few details, educators say, and caveats complicate the situation further.

“One very important thing to note is the $47,500 figure is an aspirational goal set by the governor and the Legislature over a period of years,” according to the Florida Education Association, a statewide union.

How many years? It’s not clear.

But it will depend on how much the Legislature will provide for the plan as the years go by. The legislation signed by DeSantis earlier this week uses the word “may,” stating, “The Legislature may annually provide…a teacher salary increase allocation to assist school districts in their recruitment and retention of classroom teachers and other instructional personnel.”

To put all of this in context, Florida hasn’t been known for high salaries for public school teachers.

A 2020 report by the National Education Association (NEA) shows that Florida’s average public school teacher salary is $48,800, the second lowest salary figure of all 50 states. Only Mississippi’s salary figure, at $45,192, is lower than Florida’s. The average nationwide is $63,645 for 2019-20.

So Florida has a long way to go to catch up with even the average.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signing legislation on teacher pay. Credit: Florida Channel screen shot.

At a press conference Wednesday, DeSantis confirmed that the teacher pay raises will remain in the 2020-21 state budget, despite economic uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeSantis has yet to sign the state budget as the July 1 deadline nears.

“Although we have not made every decision about the budget, I can report: this will be there. 100 percent,” DeSantis said, at the press conference.

So for now, districts will get a pot of money for raises, which would work toward a base salary of $47,500 for starting teachers. That doesn’t mean that all districts will meet that goal right away.

The teacher pay legislation also makes clear that the raises will go to full-time classroom teachers and certified Pre-K teachers in school districts and charter schools.

The governor said that the pay raises could encourage more Floridians to fill teaching positions.

“Obviously, you’re not going to get rich doing it—just like police officers don’t get rich, just like other things—you do it because you have a servant’s heart,” DeSantis said. “But it sure makes it easier if you have a good minimum salary and are able to make ends meet,” he said at the press conference.

The governor said that by signing the bill, he is moving Florida from the 26th spot of starting teacher salaries nationwide to the top five. But that could take years, educators say.

And last fall, when DeSantis was launching the initiative to boost starting pay for teachers, his plan referenced a goal of the second highest average starting teacher salary of all states. New Jersey’s starting salary was the highest, according to the NEA.

It’s not clear how and why those figures changed from the top five to the second highest starting salary.

Overall, there’s not a lot clarity yet about what kind of pay raise teachers should expect following this legislation.

According to Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, districts with already low average teacher pay may struggle to meet the goal of a starting salary of $47,500.

“Some districts have much lower salaries, currently, than others,” Messina said in an interview with the Florida Phoenix. “So those districts that are closer to the goal, obviously, will get all their teachers to the goal, and those districts that aren’t as close to the goal may have more of a challenge.”

In North Florida, Madison County School District Supt. Shirley Joseph said through a spokesperson that the pay initiative is a “wonderful thing,” but “she hopes that they give us enough money so that we are able to do it.”

The FEA provides a Frequently Asked Questions page regarding the initiative.

It also lists how much each district should receive here.  The sprawling Miami-Dade County school district will be receiving more than $60 million of the teacher salary increase allocation, while sparsely populated Franklin County will be getting less than $200,000.

Before pay raises can be distributed, school districts will need to negotiate with local teacher unions.

“Some districts will settle earlier in the year than others,” Messina said. “Some districts will end up not settling at all because they won’t agree and may head into an impasse. It depends on when the local union and the school district are able to come to agreement on the use of the funds.”

Of the $500-million for the teacher pay initiative, $100 million will be set aside to increase the salaries of experienced teachers. Those raises also will vary by district and will be impacted by union negotiations.

In the Sarasota school district, spokeswoman Kelsey Whealy said it’s simply “too soon to make any kind of assessment” about how the district plans to implement the pay raises.

Messina agrees that there are still many details to be determined.

“Until we see the full budget, and how this piece fits into the entire budget puzzle, we can’t begin to speculate on some of the things.”