Don’t count SAT scores for Florida teacher bonuses, Gov. Ron DeSantis says

The governor wants to put $500 million into a revised bonus program.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his 2019 budget priorities at a Feb. 1 press conference in Tallahassee. [The Florida Channel]
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his 2019 budget priorities at a Feb. 1 press conference in Tallahassee. [The Florida Channel]
Published Feb. 1, 2019|Updated Feb. 1, 2019

Florida’s program to reward, retain and recruit good teachers needs an overhaul, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday during a press conference where he outlined his budget priorities.

“One of the things people didn’t like” about the Best and Brightest program “was using the college entrance tests” to judge teacher quality, DeSantis said. “To me, that didn’t make sense. ... We’re going to roll out differently next week.”

He suggested his proposal will look at other factors that go into teaching, which he said is just as much "about the heart as it is the head.” And then he wants to put $500 million into the program.

“We have the possibility of rewarding a really significant percentage of teachers in these Title I schools,” DeSantis said.

The Best and Brightest program faces a continuing legal challenge, with allegations that it discriminates against certain teachers. Part of their challenge centered on the fact that educators of a certain age might not even have an SAT or ACT score.

Calling education a key component of his budget plan, DeSantis also called for a $224 increase in per-student funding that would be more than double the increase in 2018. He said the base-student allocation — the amount of unrestricted general operating money available to schools — would be increased as well.

Last year, the Legislature boosted the base-student allocation by 47 cents, inciting outrage from many superintendents, school board members and other education officials. DeSantis is recommending $50.

Notably, DeSantis continued former House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s position on preventing the rise in local property tax value from adding money to the state education pot. Instead, DeSantis advocates to lower the property tax rates where the property values increased, which state economists have said means that about $500 million in potential revenue for the districts won’t be collected.

That position is at odds with Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who’s publicly taken the opposite stance.

Other mentions included $10 million for computer science teacher training, $10 million for apprenticeship programs and $10 million more for mental health programs in schools. The Guardian program, which trains and arms school staff, will get $57 million in unused funds from last year under DeSantis' plan, meanwhile he’s recommending nearly $100 million for additional security measures in school buildings, such as converting large campuses so they only have single points of entry.

DeSantis has also said he wants to reduce or even eliminate the waiting lists of students for the Gardiner Scholarship, which allows students with disabilities to attend private schools. He’s provided a $19 million increase to that program. DeSantis has also said he would like to cut down the waiting list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program for low-income students, but didn’t provide more money — instead he promised to reveal details on his ideas to expand that program in the coming weeks.

Finally, in spite of House leaders angling toward possible cuts to higher education, DeSantis only proposed a boost of $90 million to performance funding for universities, and pledged to hold tuition steady.

DeSantis left his press conference after about 20 minutes to travel to Miami, offering staff members to provide background information afterward. More information is expected to roll out through the afternoon. You can see his budget plan here.

And remember this: the governor recommends, the Legislature approves. House and Senate appropriations committees are scheduled to hear the DeSantis proposal next week, as they begin putting together their spending plans.