Hundreds of Florida schools learned late Friday how large a piece of the state’s $131.5 million recognition fund they’d get this year, if any.
The news came shortly after the Department of Education finished processing 2018-19 school grade appeals, finalizing the list of which campuses would be eligible for the $100 per student award. It also came just before Gov. Ron DeSantis revealed his proposal to increase Florida’s starting teacher pay to a minimum of $47,500.
Some critics long have called on lawmakers to eliminate the recognition program, established by lawmakers with then-Gov. Jeb Bush in the late 1990s, and put the money in the general fund for improved salaries. The A-Plus funds, as they’ve long been called, can be used for one-time bonuses, school supplies or the employment of temporary added staff.
The critics have argued that the model, which grants the added funds to schools based on their student test scores, unnecessarily pits school against school, employee against employee. They note that even within schools getting the money, faculty and staff have been known to bicker about how to spend it.
Similar arguments have arisen about the $300 million Best and Brightest teacher bonus system, which provides some teachers extra one-time pay, first based on their own college entry exam scores and now based on a variety of criteria including schoolwide gains on state tests. The bonuses go only to K-12 classroom teachers, leaving out groups such as pre-k educators and guidance counselors.
The money from school recognition and Best and Brightest could get DeSantis nearly 72 percent of the way toward his goal of $603 million he says is needed to boost the minimum teacher salary. When asked how he would pay for his plan, he simply said the money exists in the general fund if the proper priorities are set.
DeSantis has called for ending Best and Brightest, and Sen. Rob Bradley has filed a bill to make it happen.
No one has yet made any such effort related to school recognition. Past governors and lawmakers have, in fact rejected requests to slash that line item.
So for now, at least, the money is scheduled to go to districts by Oct. 18. Schools receiving the funds because of their performance have until Feb. 1 to decide how to use the amount.
If they cannot reach an agreement, the money will become bonuses evenly distributed to all teachers currently at the school.
In the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough schools are to receive $9.4 million. Pinellas schools are to get $4.3 million, Pasco schools $3.15 million and Hernando schools $628,556. Miami-Dade County, the state’s largest school district is to get the biggest amount of the fund, at $17.6 million.