Florida to focus on improving teacher pay, commissioner Richard Corcoran says

Bonuses alone aren’t enough, State Board member Michael Olenick suggests.
Florida Board of Education member Michael Olenick calls for more state money to increase teacher pay during a July 17, 2019, board meeting in Polk County. [The Florida Channel]
Florida Board of Education member Michael Olenick calls for more state money to increase teacher pay during a July 17, 2019, board meeting in Polk County. [The Florida Channel]
Published July 17, 2019|Updated July 17, 2019

Suggesting that teacher pay is not on par with other degreed professionals, Florida Department of Education officials on Wednesday called for more money to go into educator salaries.

“Teacher compensation is going to be a huge component of the agenda going forward,” education commissioner Richard Corcoran told the Board of Education during a meeting at Polk State College.

Efforts in the spring to increase the base student allocation, which districts can use to negotiate raises, and funding for Best and Brightest bonuses “was the beginning,” Corcoran said. “There is more coming.”

State Board member Michael Olenick expressed hope that the state will come up with adequate money to put into salaries, and not just focus on bonuses. People cannot rely on one-time bonuses when making their personal budgets or seeking loans, he said.

Some districts have turned to local voters to increase property tax rates as a way to improve teacher pay, Olenick noted. Districts should not have to do that, he said.

“The state should do it,” Olenick said.

Board vice chairman Andy Tuck recalled that when Gov. Rick Scott sought to put millions into teacher salaries, the money did not get negotiated as desired. He wondered whether collective bargaining might get in the way of directing money into teachers’ wallets.

Corcoran said the Legislature can allocate money for specific purposes such as raises without violating bargaining rights.

Olenick stressed, though, that the first part of the equation is to get the money in place. He called for another increase to the base student allocation.

“I understand how teachers negotiate,” he said. “But there has to be money to negotiate.”

He praised Corcoran’s Tuesday announcement that $15.8 million in federal funds would be distributed as bonuses up to $15,000 for teachers with effective and highly effective VAM scores, who agree to teach at D and F rated Title I schools.

VAM scores, implemented in 2011, use a complicated mathematical formula to determine whether teachers made a difference in their students’ performance, compared to how they might otherwise do. Only about one-third of classroom teachers receive a VAM score, which is no longer required as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

Of those with scores, about 56 percent statewide were rated highly effective, and 42 percent were rated effective, according to the most recent available data.

In the Tampa Bay area, 35 schools were graded D in the spring, and five received F grades. Most serve low-income neighborhoods.

Corcoran said in a release that the bonuses would go into effect in August. He reiterated his strong support for pay tied to performance. He also restated his view that children in low-performing schools serving poorer communities deserve a high quality education, and teachers are a key factor.

“Every Florida student, regardless of their background or their family’s income, deserves great teachers who empower them to break down any impediments that encumber their life’s freedom,” he said. “This is another way we are leveling the playing field for all Floridians, and we are thrilled for the opportunity to reward our state’s hard-working teachers in the process.”

See the Department’s policy presentation for additional information.