Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference May 9, 2023, to sign several education bills and increases in teacher pay. | Rebecca Blackwell, APGov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference May 9, 2023, to sign several education bills and increases in teacher pay. | Rebecca Blackwell, AP
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference May 9, 2023, to sign several education bills and increases in teacher pay. | Rebecca Blackwell, AP

Teacher unions say pay raise isn’t enough

Published on June 11, 2024 at 9:36 am

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Monday that he supports increasing the state’s allocation for teacher salaries by more than $200 million in next fiscal year’s budget.

That brings the total allocation to $1.25 billion — what DeSantis called a “record salary funding increase.”

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In 2020, the state raised teacher starting salaries to $47,500. Since 2019, the state has invested over $4 billion in teacher pay increases, raising Florida’s average starting salary to over $47,000, putting it 16th in the nation, according to the National Education Association.

A statement from the Florida Department of Education pointed out that the average starting salary ranks as the highest in the southeast U.S.

But the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, pushed back against the significance of the funding increase.

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In a Monday news conference responding to the governor’s remarks, FEA president Andrew Spar pointed to the state’s near-last ranking in average teacher salaries, which is around $53,000.

Pay for experienced teachers lags

Teachers are paid based on years of experience. Education advocates have criticized the legislature for failing to address raising salaries for more veteran teachers, which explains Florida’s lower average overall.

This year, data from the NEA reveals that the state’s ranking in average teacher salaries dropped from 48th to 50th in the nation, ahead of only West Virginia.

Andrew Spar speaks on a zoom meeting about teacher pay

Spar said the low pay is contributing to Florida’s “massive” teacher shortage, which has hovered between 4,000 to 5,000 during the 2023-24 school year.

“We have to recognize the fact that … teachers can’t afford to be teachers and all they’re asking for is to be paid enough, so that they can pay their bills, go to the doctor when they’re not feeling well and do their jobs,” said Spar.

Reina Atkins, a rising senior at Robinson High School in Hillsborough County, described the realities of the teacher shortage. She and her AP pre-calculus classmates were left without a teacher for months last fall.

“During my junior year in October, my math teacher unexpectedly left. He came in on a Friday, and he said that he could not afford to teach at our school anymore because his car broke down,” recalled Atkins.

Atkins said, by the time the school hired a full-time teacher, it was too late to learn the material for the AP exam.

‘Silos’ separate legislators and educators

Stephanie Yocum, president of the Polk Education Association, which represents about 9,000 teachers, said lawmakers need to communicate more with the state’s educators.

“We show up every day and we expect our governor and our state legislators show up for us. Yet, they haven’t,” said Yocum. “And they continue to work in silos without talking to real educators on the front lines every day.”

The Florida Education Association is calling on lawmakers to increase K-12 education funding by $2.5 billion a year for the next seven years in order to alleviate shortages of teachers, mental health specialists, and meet other student needs.

“We have seen a diversion of dollars away from our public schools, meaning that some school districts are actually talking about closing public schools, closing community neighborhood public schools,” said Spar.

The state’s universal voucher program, which is funded by public dollars, is expected to expand in the upcoming school year.

The proposed budget outlines that $2.8 billion will go toward private school vouchers for an estimated 315,892 students in the 2024-2025 school year. Spar said that means “a chunk” of the money reserved for public K-12 schools will be redirected to private schools, diminishing the allocation for teacher pay.

DeSantis said on Monday that about 90% of the $117.5 billion state budget is complete and final decisions on it are being made this week. The next fiscal year starts July 1.

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