Saying he wants to recognize “really great teachers,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday unveiled a $300 million bonus program to replace the “Best and Brightest” bonus he deemed confusing.
Combined with his $600 million proposal to boost Florida’s minimum teacher salary, the pay package would be the “most far-reaching and robust policy that has been offered in our state in a long, long time,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Vero Beach High School.
In all, he said, it would affect nearly 80 percent of the state’s public school teachers, with some seeing their compensation increase as much as 15 percent.
“This is a priority for this upcoming legislative session,” DeSantis said.
The plan, as outlined by education commissioner Richard Corcoran, would pay bonuses to teachers and principals in schools based on their growth in the state’s A-F school grading system.
Schools that see their points in the grading rise 6 percent or more would qualify for the highest bonuses, with those that have gains of 3 to 5 percent in the next level and those with 1 to 2 percent growth in the bottom tier. Educators at Title I schools, serving primarily low-income students, would get an amount double that awarded to non-Title I schools.
Corcoran noted that about 90 percent of the state’s Title I schools earn C or lower in the grading system. He suggested that focusing resources such as the bonus into those schools will help elevate their performance.
“When you put a great teacher in front of them ... you are going to see those scores increase exponentially,” Corcoran said.
The governor’s latest plan won praise from others in the “reform” universe who have backed most aspects of Florida’s testing-based accountability efforts.
“We fully support increasing teacher pay,” said Patricia Levesque of ExcelinEd, the education foundation led by former Gov. Jeb Bush. “Rewarding teachers and principals who successfully collaborate to create a rich learning environment ensures that student success is, appropriately, at the center of any performance-based plan.”
Leaders of the state’s teacher collective bargaining units were less generous.
They strongly supported elimination of the Best and Brightest program, which they scorned at the outset when it was based on teacher SAT scores and then later as it depended on gains in school grading, similar to the current proposal.
“But we are not in favor of putting more money into bonus programs,” said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. “You can’t live on a bonus. You can’t plan for the future on a bonus.”
The Florida Education Association quickly tweeted out a message criticizing the state for six “failed” bonus programs over the past 13 years. Those include EComp in 2006, STAR in 2007, MAP from 2008 to 2012, and the different iterations of Best and Brightest.
The FEA predicted nothing better from the latest idea.
“After 13 years, it is safe to say the bonuses have utterly failed at those purposes,” the group wrote. “Introducing a seventh bonus program will be just another failure.”
Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, suggested any bonus model simply pits groups of educators against one another. As occurred with DeSantis’ plan to improve teachers’ base salary, the union leaders called instead for spreading the money evenly among all education employees, and not just let some benefit.
“Why doesn’t he just put $300 million into education and see what that will do?” Gandolfo said.
Still unclear in the debate is whether the lawmakers will go along — especially in the more conservative House.
House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Chris Latvala said his chamber is also committed to “doing something about teacher salaries. There is common ground in that area.”
But whether the lawmakers can find enough money to meet the governor’s nearly $1 billion price tag remains to be seen. Committees currently are reviewing priorities to see how they might reallocate existing resources.
“We’ll certainly take a look at it,” Latvala said of the governor’s proposal, adding, “I think the House may have a plan of its own.”