Florida is near the bottom of the nation when it comes to teacher pay. Governor Ron DeSantis wants to change that by raising the base salary. But the state’s largest teacher union says the governor’s plans don’t go far enough.
Earlier this month the governor stopped at his alma mater Dunedin High in Pinellas County. That’s where he chose to announce his teacher pay proposal.
“Under this proposal, every teacher would be at at least $47,500," announced DeSantis.
DeSantis’s proposal would raise the base salary for teachers from under $38,000 to $47,500. He says that bump will move Florida to among the top states when it comes to teacher pay.
“We’re currently not even in the top half of the 50 states in terms of minimum salary," explained DeSantis. "We would go all the way to the top 5.”
DeSantis says he hopes the move will help Florida recruit and retain great teachers.
"One thing about it is if you have one really great teacher at some time in your life that can make all the difference between you being able to be somebody who’s a good student and ends up pursuing new horizons," said DeSantis.
The Florida Education Association is holding a Fund Our Future bus tour to push for teacher pay raises. One of the stops was at the Capitol. FEA officials want more money for teachers, they have concerns about the governor’s plans.
“Our Governor has said, yes we want to build an agenda that is about teacher pay. But you cannot focus on entry-level teacher pay you have to focus on those folks that have given their lives, and their blood, and their sweat for kids over generations," said FEA President Fedrick Ingram.
DeSantis plan focuses on teachers making less than $47,500, Ingram thinks every teacher should get a raise.
"The governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction, it’s $600 million. But we want that $600 million all-inclusive of all teachers, they all work hard," explained Ingram. "We cannot give a lion’s share of the money to unborn teachers, to teachers that are in their first and second year, we have teachers that have been teaching 25 and 30 years. Those teachers deserve the same amount of respect as every other teacher."
The union represents 145,000 teachers retired Wakulla County Teacher Missy Rudd was one of them. She says many teachers are forced to take on second jobs.
“Teacher pay is not as adequate as it should be," explains Rudd. "A lot of my colleagues have second and third jobs. And for a long time I did too I sold Mary Kay products for a long time.”
Rudd thinks a base salary raise doesn’t do enough to help the tenured teachers.
"The [$47,500] that’s a good starting point. That’s great for beginning teachers but for teachers like me who we’re in the classroom for 13 years what does that do," said Rudd. "And for our paraprofessionals that help us every single day. And our school bus drivers, and our cafeteria workers, and our maintenance workers, they need a raise too. It takes all of us to make a school run successfully."
Ingram and the FEA want an increase to all school employee salaries.
"It is an embarrassment for the state of Florida how we treat our educators, our bus drivers, our secretaries, our security monitors do not make a livable wage. And so yes we are calling to have a full ten percent increase for every single public school employee this year," said Ingram.
The FEA estimates a ten percent raise across the board would cost the state 1 billion dollars. But, DeSantis maintains research shows raising the base salary not an overall raise is the best approach for recruiting teachers.
"The minimum salary really has the most significant effect on recruiting new teachers. Not saying someone making 59 doesn’t deserve 60, but in terms of how that’s going to positively impact education that is going to be a really really big thing," expalined DeSantis.
As for the legislature, House Speaker Jose Oliva said in a statement that the request will be properly considered but he notes he’s already received $2 billion in new spending requests from state agencies.
Session begins January 14th. So far one bill related to teacher pay has been filed. It would make the base salary $50,000 for all instructional personnel by the 2020-2021 fiscal year.