Florida teachers are on their way to becoming among the worst-paid in the nation.
For the 2009-10 school year, average teacher salaries in Florida fell to No. 37 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and estimates for 2010-11 show them falling to No. 47, according to a national report released this week.
Florida's average teacher salary last year was $46,708. The national average was $55,202.
The unfavorable ranking comes as state lawmakers prepare to make sweeping changes to how teachers are hired, fired, paid and evaluated. They may also require teachers to chip in up to 5 percent of their pay towards their pensions.
All of that combined with relatively low pay "has a real impact that will really drive people away" from the teaching profession, said Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union.
A key lawmaker agreed Florida teachers need to be paid better. But he said tough times made that unlikely.
"I am not happy with the average teacher salary in the state of Florida. I want teacher pay to increase," said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Committee and once filed a bill to bring Florida teacher salaries up to the national average. "I am also a realist in this brutal economic time."
Florida teacher pay, which is set at the district level, has been stagnant for several years. It has dropped in rank as teachers in most other states continue to get small raises.
Compared to other states, Florida was No. 28 in 2006-07, No. 29 in 2007-08 and No. 34 in 2008-09, according to annual reports from the National Education Association.
Florida's estimated average teacher salary for 2010-11 ($6 lower than last year's average) puts it behind every state in the Southeast and ahead of only Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. In the past, the finalized numbers did not change much from the estimates.
The reports do not include comparisons of beginning teacher pay or teacher benefits. They do not consider potentially mitigating factors such as state income taxes or variations in cost of living.
Both Ogletree and Simmons cited a recent Education Week report that put Florida's school system at No. 5 in the country, in part because Florida kids are making big academic gains on national tests.
Both said Florida teachers have been key to those gains. Both said there was a connection between pay and quality.
"My goal is for teachers to make more money," Simmons said. "That's what we're trying to do this spring by injecting performance pay into the system."
Ogletree's response: "You can talk about performance pay until you're blue in the face. But there has to be a base salary where a person can change their mortgage and take care of their kids."
Ron Matus can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8873.