OUR POSITION: It’s great news that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to give teachers a big raise, but all teachers should share in the good fortune.
It appears Florida is finally about to do something to recognize teachers for what they’re worth.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, in case you missed it, has proposed spending $603 million to raise the pay for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree to $47,500. That would be standard throughout the state.
Right now, first-year teachers in Charlotte County make $45,000 and that is only because of the referendum passed by voters last year which added about $17 million to the school district budget. Prior to that, first-year teachers in Charlotte County made $38,233.
In Sarasota, which has operated with the benefit of a tax referendum for years, first year teachers with a bachelors make $44,300.
DeSantis plans to raise teachers’ pay will likely sail through the Legislature. He has former House Speaker, and current education secretary, Richard Corcoran to help twist arms if needed. But, the Republican-controlled Legislature should be more than willing, in an election year, to approve the pay raise.
And they should be.
Florida schools had 4,000 teacher vacancies this year according to a column in the Sun by Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota). And, there were hundreds of teachers who were instructing classes they were not certified to teach.
Florida was ranked a shameful 46th in the nation for average teacher salaries. Average pay for all teachers in Florida was around $48,000 — about $12,000 below the national average. That has to improve. There is no reason Florida should not rank, at least, in the top five.
Here is where the problem lies. Average salary — not just starting salary — is an issue.
While DeSantis’ plan is solid, there is a fear among educators of a level of unfairness when a starting teacher with a bachelors earns almost as much as teachers with experience and/or a masters degree.
It’s realistic that a teacher with experience would be a little jealous of a rookie earning almost as much.
That can be fixed.
First, Florida’s Best and Brightest program needs to be dumped. It was a well-meaning attempt to reward teachers who bring out the best in their students by rewarding them with bonuses. But the criteria for deciding who gets the bonus and the implementation of the program have been fraught with problems. Doing away with that program, according to Sen. Gruters, would release $285 million to boost salaries.
Charlotte County School Board member Kim Amontree said, in a Sun article last week, the state should put the salary increases in the Base Student Allocation budget category for each district and mandate a $47,000 starting salary. That, she said, would give each district flexibility to “take care of teachers and staff.”
We’re pleased Gov. DeStantis and Republican leaders in the Legislature have recognized the dire need to improve teachers pay. We urge them to make that item a priority when the legislative session begins in 2020. But, we ask they look at overall teachers’ pay and come up with a formula that rewards all our teachers fairly while allowing Florida to compete on a national level for new teachers.