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Does Florida law allow the Legislature to set teacher pay?

Gov. Rick Scott tried to mandate teacher raises in 2014, but ran into collective bargaining laws.
Gov. Rick Scott, center, with Hillsborough County School District superintendent MaryEllen Elia, left, talks to people Thursday at Twin Lakes Elementary after highlighting his proposal to raise pay by $2,500 for public school teachers in his 2013 budget.
Gov. Rick Scott, center, with Hillsborough County School District superintendent MaryEllen Elia, left, talks to people Thursday at Twin Lakes Elementary after highlighting his proposal to raise pay by $2,500 for public school teachers in his 2013 budget.
Published Oct. 8

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal Monday to boost Florida’s minimum teacher salary to $47,500 raised several questions, such as where the money will come from and what he intends to do for veteran educators who earn just slightly more than his recommended base.

But perhaps the most important question was the simplest one: Can the the governor and Legislature do that?

Monroe County School Board member Sue Woltanski, who runs the Accountabaloney blog, noted on Twitter that lawmakers frequently have stated their inability to set teacher pay rates because statute places that responsibility with school boards.

Key committee chairs mentioned it when asked to give raises rather than bonuses during the 2019 legislative session. They instead talked about adding money to the base student allocation — money districts can use without strings attached — for boards to put into pay as desired.

The state ran into the issue, as well, in 2013-14 after the Legislature approved then-Gov. Rick Scott’s request for funding to give every teacher a $2,500 raise.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Gov. Rick Scott rallies teachers in 'pay raise victory tour'

Scott had two primary objectives for the session six years ago, before his reelection bid. One of those was paying teachers more, because, he said, they deserve it.

Lawmakers included $480 million in their budget for Scott’s initiative. He quickly proclaimed a win, declaring “Every Florida teacher gets a pay raise” in his social media accounts.

It didn’t quite work out as planned though, for several reasons. Lawmakers altered Scott’s concept, for one, tying the added money to performance evaluations rather than spreading it equally to everyone.

The Legislature also decided to offer the raise to more employees than just teachers, decreasing the potential amount available to all who qualified.

Also looming over the outcome was the matter of who actually offers raises to school employees.

While the governor and Legislature can set aside funding and recommend a set increase, the school boards actually control the final outcome. That’s in state law governing collective bargaining, a right guaranteed in the Florida constitution.

By October 2013, Scott found only 16 of 67 school districts had reached deals following his pay raise proposal. Others hadn’t gotten there. Some had different plans.

Scott sent a letter to the others urging them to follow suit, and offering his staff to help conclude negotiations if needed.

So not everyone got a raise, and those who did didn’t always get the amount Scott called for.

Related: <b>RELATED: </b> Rick Scott says 'Every Florida teacher gets a pay raise' with new budget

The law hasn’t changed since then. And so the issue remains the same, too.

Pasco County schools superintendent Kurt Browning, whose district has been struggling to find a way to increase salaries that’s acceptable to his employee union, welcomed any offer from the state to boost the underlying funding.

A former secretary of state, Browning suggested there might be a way to get the money where DeSantis wants it to go.

“If I were them, I’d put it in a categorical, because you don’t negotiate categoricals,” he said, referring to budget line items with language specifying how they are spent.

Other observers suggested a change to state law might be in order, allowing the Legislature to set the state’s minimum teacher salary as it establishes the state minimum wage. State Sen. Kevin Rader, a Boca Raton Democrat, has filed such legislation each year since 2015, to no effect.

So far, DeSantis has not revealed exactly how he intends to get his idea to the finish line. House leaders threw ice water on the concept with a terse statement noting the administration’s more than $2 billion in spending requests and the House’s desire for a balanced budget.

All of which led cynics to ask two final questions: Does DeSantis really mean it? Or was his announcement just for show?


ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
    The sides have not set a new date for negotiations.
  2. Tony Pirotta, right, meets with his Armwood High Ought to be a Law student club and state Rep. Susan Valdes to talk strategy for the group's latest legislative proposal. They presented their bill to state senators on Dec. 9. [JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. Florida's Baker Act was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, a 65-year-old grandmother and a freshman Florida legislator from Miami-Dade County, seen here in a 1965 photo. [Associated Press]
    The law was written in 1971 by Maxine Baker, then a freshman legislator from Miami-Dade County who pushed for the rights of people with mental illness.
  4. Sarah Henderson with her son, Braden, who was committed under the Baker Act after a joking remark at school. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A cop car comes. A child is handcuffed and taken to a mental health facility. The scene is all too frequent at public schools across the state.
  5. Three Armwood High School students testify before the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 9, 2019. Left to right are seniors Maria Medina, Haley Manigold and Madison Harvey. [Emily L. Mahoney | Times]
    “The people who are cynics about politics are also the ones who complain the most,” said one student, who said democracy requires participation.
  6. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.
    The idea is part of Florida leaders’ pitch to address low teacher pay, though there is still disagreement over how to do so.
  7. The government program provides free lunches in schools that qualify, regardless of a student's family income. The idea is to erase a stigma.
    One manager lost her job, accused of taking advantage of the program she oversaw.
  8. Sally Henderson, a Hillsborough County teacher, is one of the few Florida educators to earn National Board certification since 2015.
    The state still has more teachers in the program than all states except North Carolina.
  9. Staci Plonsky holds art from son A.J., who has autism, that depicts his memory of being taken by the school resource officer to a mental health facility under Florida's Baker Act law. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Chanell Newell, a reading teacher at Woodson K-8 School, is a finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year. [HCPS  |  HCPS]
    The winners will be announced on Jan. 23.
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