Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Rick Scott leaves out the details on teacher pay raises

Gov. Rick Scott declared victory after legislative leaders announced they included $480 million in the 2013-14 budget for teacher pay raises.

Scott made a $2,500 pay raise for every teacher one of just two priorities this legislative session. So he announced the news on his Facebook page on April 29 with can't-miss-it, all-caps text: "EVERY FLORIDA TEACHER GETS A PAY RAISE! IT'S WORKING."

He's oversimplifying it. The truth is, the Legislature's offering of $480 million for raises may be the amount Scott wanted, but he's glossing over the fine print. The raises would not be limited to just teachers. And they are not 100 percent guaranteed to every teacher.

Earlier in the session, House and Senate leaders weren't keen on Scott's idea because it does not align with 2011 legislation they pitched — and Scott signed — implementing a merit pay system for teachers.

Last week, lawmakers suggested school professionals be judged based on 2013-14 performance evaluations to be determined by school districts and approved by the state Department of Education. For education personnel deemed "effective," lawmakers recommended salary increases of at least $2,500. Those rated "highly effective" are eligible for up to $3,500.

They also decided to give districts the option to come up with their own merit pay plans, a move the Florida Education Association applauded. But there is still no mandate that every teacher get a raise.

The Legislature took a different approach for state workers, awarding them $1,000 or $1,400 pay hikes (plus a chance for $600 more for some based on merit) depending on their income starting in October. Law enforcement officers would get their raise this summer.

House and Senate leadership also said raises aren't just for teachers, but for guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, librarians, principals and assistant principals.

Some districts said they're not sure they can afford to give all those raises. Miami-Dade and Broward County superintendents Alberto Carvalho and Robert Runcie said even though the Legislature will increase per-pupil funding by $1 billion statewide ($134 million for Miami-Dade and $93 million for Broward), there would still not be enough money to pay for raises for everyone.

"The math simply does not add up," Runcie said.

As for testing, based on the 2011-12 evaluations, just about every teacher could qualify for a raise. Of the teachers who were evaluated, 22.6 percent of teachers were highly effective and 74.6 percent were effective, leaving just under 3 percent of teachers with ratings of needs improvement or unsatisfactory. Ten percent of the state's teachers were not evaluated.

The bottom line is it's not up to Scott, or the Legislature for that matter, to decide. Florida law says the state cannot dictate teacher salaries. Teacher salaries are negotiated between the school districts and teachers union. So even though legislators approved a half-billion dollar pot of money for teacher raises, there is no guarantee that every teacher will get a raise.

School districts in talks with unions will ultimately decide who gets raises, who doesn't and how much. All the state and Scott can do is strongly suggest how school districts dish out the extra money they're getting.

Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said it's not realistic to think unions and districts won't try to get money to all teachers. The budget language is written flexibly enough so that districts are not precluded from using money from the state to award every teacher a raise, even if they do not qualify for merit pay or are rated below effective.

So will every Florida teacher get a pay raise? It seems likely, with the influx of money poured into education this year. But Scott can't decree it, and the budget is written so that it applies to high-performing educators. Plus, some superintendents have said the inclusion of non-instructional personnel will make it harder if not impossible to award every teacher a raise.

We rate Scott's statement Half True.

This item has been edited for print. For more fact-checks, go to PolitiFact.com/Florida.

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