Embarrassingly low teacher pay in FL has sparked a face-off between the governor and teacher unions

high school classroom, school, education
Pixabay photo.

Teacher union officials are irked following comments made by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who discussed teacher pay and party politics on Tuesday.

And a face-off between the governor and the unions isn’t going to go away soon, with millions of dollars at stake in bolstering salaries for public school teachers in 2020.

Here’s what happened:

The governor has been touting a plan to boost starting pay for teachers, but the Florida Education Association wants across-the-board raises for teachers and staff that would cost billions.

Tuesday, DeSantis dismissed the statewide teacher union’s call for across-the-board pay raises as politically motivated.

“Let’s not pretend there’s not politics involved with this,” DeSantis said when asked about the union initiative.

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

“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.”

That didn’t go over well with United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernández-Mats. (UTD is described as the largest local union of educators in Florida.)

United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernández-Mats. Credit: YouTube.

“The notion that union members exclusively belong to one political party is not only false but emblematic of the way Tallahassee continuously tries to further divide educators to propel its pro-charter agenda,”  Hernández-Mats said in a statement Wednesday. She referenced non-traditional charter schools that are public but run by private entities, both nonprofit and profit-driven.

“The right to unfettered public education is protected by the Florida Constitution and that is not possible without proper funding,” said Hernández-Mats. “It would serve the Governor best to focus on proposing actual solutions for improving the state’s abysmal ranking in funding and pay rather than scapegoating unions. It is clear that his administration lacks leadership and vision when it comes to this issue.”

The Florida Education Association jumped in as well on Wednesday.

Fedrick Ingram, Florida Education Association president

“We are deeply disappointed to hear Gov. DeSantis dismiss the voices of the 145,000 teachers and education staff represented by our organization. This is not about partisan politics; it’s about building strong public schools and a better future for students,” FEA president Fedrick Ingram said in a statement.

“I think we can agree that Florida’s kids need qualified teachers and all the staff necessary to public schools. Our members know firsthand what it takes to retain and recruit educators. If the governor is serious about the issue of pay, we’d suggest he conduct a listening tour with teachers and education staff…Our door is open. We want to work with Gov. DeSantis to improve public schools.”

The Florida Phoenix wrote earlier that, 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.

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