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Florida Teachers Find Ally In Fight For Better Pay - Business Leaders

An empty classroom
Creative Commons
According to the Florida Education Association, there were more than 2,400 vacant teacher positions across the state in Jan. 2020 Credit: Creative Commons

Public school teachers advocating for increased pay have found an ally in the Florida business community. 

Members of both the Council of 100 and the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council have grown vocal in their support of increasing teacher salaries. 

They say it comes down to economics - competitive salaries mean the state can keep quality educators. That, in turn, leads to good students who can become the kind of employees who businesses want to hire. 

"We're obviously going to be at a competitive disadvantage if we're not providing the same types of resources for our teachers to produce the talent pipeline that's needed to support the kind of companies that we're looking to attract and retain," said Tampa Bay Economic Development Council President and CEO Craig Richard. 

"Business leaders understand the importance of quality available talent," added Richard. "Every one of these business leaders that have to deal with recruiting top-notch talent, retaining top-notch talent, can certainly understand the trials and tribulations that school districts go through in order to attract and retain the best talent." 

Florida Council of 100 President and CEO Bob Ward said the next generation of workers needs to have the "dynamic skill sets" potential employers are looking for. 

"The biggest thing they'll need will be adaptability. We need people who can think and can process and work as teams," said Ward.  "Those are skills that are learned at a very early age and a teacher is an effective part of that."

But the state has a hard time attracting and retaining public school educators.

According to the National Education Association, Florida ranks 46th in the nation for public school teacher salaries, with public school educators making around $48,000 a year - about 20% less than the national average. 

The Council of 100's Horizons 2040 Project report found that only three percent of Florida students taking the ACT plan on pursuing a career in teaching - the lowest percentage in the country.

Each year, the Department of Education releases a five-year plan. But Ward said that the council felt the need to look further down the road.

"The ship is very big and it takes a long time to make major changes," said Ward, "So what are those policy issues that we need to be looking at now to address them 20 years down the road?" 

The report also outlined several challenges facing Florida public school teachers- low salaries being a major concern. 

Ward says that while working on the report, researchers for the council heard from educators at three dozen Florida public schools. The council found that while the pay was not the motivating factor for teachers entering the profession, it was a deciding factor in whether or not they could stay. 

Richard, whose wife is a kindergarten teacher, says he understands the plight of teachers on both a professional and personal level. 

"My wife, thankfully, is committed to the teaching profession because she believes in what she's doing. She knows that the kids she's teaching are the future for us as a country as a community," said Richard. 

"She's willing to sacrifice to be able to do that- and some teachers just can't." 

Delaney Brown is a radio news intern for the fall of 2019.
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