By MARC VALERO

Staff Writer

SEBRING — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday he wants to raise the minimum salary of Florida teachers to $47,500, but the state teachers union wants to know his plans to retain experienced teachers.

DeSantis’ proposal would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and likely will be a key issue during the upcoming 2020 legislative session.

The governor said his proposal would lead to a boost in pay for more than 100,000 teachers statewide. When asked later at an appearance at a Broward County school why he opted to raise the minimum salary and not overall average salaries for educators, DeSantis said the plan would affect “60% of teachers” and have the most impact.

Florida Education Association (teachers union) President Fedrick Ingram said, “We thank the governor for opening a dialogue on salaries and for acknowledging that our teachers are woefully underpaid. Raising minimum starting pay is a beginning.

“We still hope to hear about what Gov. DeSantis plans to do to retain experienced teachers who have devoted years to their students, and about how his administration will provide fair, competitive pay for all the people essential to our schools — bus drivers, paraprofessionals, food-service workers, office staff, custodial personnel and others.”

Highlands Superintendent Brenda Longshore said they are very hopeful that DeSantis’ proposal will happen, adding it would help greatly in Highlands County.

School Board Vice Chair Donna Howerton commented that the minimum pay proposal was “Awesome ... a plus for the teachers.

“We spoke to the chancellor; he says the governor has money appropriated for that,” Howerton said. But, the Legislature will have a say in the matter.

Howerton added that pay for experienced teachers should also be addressed.

State Board of Education Chairman Andy Tuck said, “Anytime we can raise teacher salaries, it is a good thing. It is because of teachers we have all the other careers in the world.”

According to the National Education Association, Florida ranks 26th in the nation for starting teacher pay at $37,636. With this investment of over $600 million, raising the minimum salary to $47,500 will rank Florida second in the nation for starting teacher pay.

“We are experiencing a teacher shortage in Florida,” DeSantis said. “With a strong economy and plenty of jobs available in other fields, unfortunately too many college graduates are unwilling to enter the teaching profession.

“My proposal to increase the minimum salary for teachers to $47,500 will help alleviate this shortage and elevate the teaching profession to the level of appreciation it deserves. This is long overdue, and I look forward to working with the legislature to make this a reality.”

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