OUR POSITION: Give Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis credit for keeping his word and pushing through a significant raise for our teachers.

With the coronavirus pandemic taking a huge bite of the Florida’s revenues, there were some anxious moments the past couple of months whether or not the highly anticipated pay raise for teachers would actually happen.

Losses in sales tax revenues could siphon as much as $4 billion from the state’s projected income by fall. Since state businesses — including the theme park money machines — began shutting down, the state has lost around $500 million a month in revenue. It had lawmakers scratching their heads how the losses would be made up.

The one-time $900 million budget request for teachers shrunk to $500 million and some questioned if even that would be a pandemic victim.

Gov. Ron DeSantis ended any doubt last week. The governor signed what had been one of his budget priorities when he approved a measure to spend $500 million to boost the minimum salaries of classroom teachers. The money will guarantee at least $47,500 to all teachers and give veteran teachers a boost in pay also.

The legislation had been a keystone of the governor’s budget throughout the year. He was not about to let a pandemic force him to take it back.

At a news conference, DeSantis, acknowledging the budget struggles brought on by COVID-19, said “it was quite a challenge to make sure that even though we fought for (the teachers pay raise) that we’d be able to actually do it in the budget. (It’s) a different fiscal picture from what we were dealing with in January, February and early March.”

In what is being called the Year of the Teacher, the bill will provide each school district the autonomy to distribute the funds to teachers. To make sure they meet the standards, each district will be required to submit a report to the Florida Department of Education that tells how the funds for teacher salary increases were spent. The $500 million is supposed to be broken down to $400,000 to raise minimum salaries and another $100 million to boost the pay of veteran teachers.

The bill also calls for eliminating the Best and Brightest program, which offered bonuses to school teachers and principals. That program, and how the funds were distributed, had been controversial since it was initiated in 2015.

Also, the bill would remove educators’ SAT and ACT college-entrance scores as a factor in determining bonuses. The state was sued for its use of those scores, citing an unintended impact on Black, Hispanic and older teachers.

The news of the raises being approved surely was uplifting to teachers who made such a great effort this past spring to teach virtual classes online during the pandemic. Now, as schools work on plans to reopen in August, the teachers will have something to look forward to.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said although teachers will benefit from a hike in pay, the “kids are the winners because they are going to have tremendous quality education outcomes.”

He makes a point.

While so many of our teachers put in long hours because they love their job and love the kids, it’s only human nature to feel better about what you are doing when you feel appreciated.

DeSantis gave Florida’s teachers a reason to feel a little more appreciated.


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