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.
Please ask Ed policy makers, like @SenMannyDiazJr and @voteforjennifer, who, when (for years) teachers asked for raises not bonuses, repeatedly said that the legislature cannot set salary: how can Tallahassee mandate salary now? @mahoneysthename @lesliepostal @JeffSolochek— Accountabaloney (@FLBaloney) October 7, 2019
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.
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.
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?