Gov. DeSantis fleshes out teacher pay, bonus proposals in draft bills

He’s got a new voucher proposal, as well.
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) [ STEVE CANNON | AP ]
Published Nov. 19, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis captured statewide attention for the big budget number — $900 million — that he’s proposed to go into teacher salaries and bonuses for the coming year.

Doubters around Florida have said that while they appreciate the goal of supporting educators, they want to see the details.

The governor quietly released those Monday right alongside his spending plan. The specifics in his recommended conforming bills indicate that while the figures might have increased, DeSantis’ underlying approach has not.

His proposal to boost public school teacher minimum salaries to $47,500, for instance, implements the same divide among education professionals as the Best and Brightest bonus program did.

The legislation would apply to full-time K-12 classroom teachers, as defined in existing statute. That law does not include several categories of educators, including counselors, career specialists and prekindergarten instructors.

That split created some upset among those who were excluded in past bonus programs based on the same definition, and some observers have already cautioned that a similar reaction would be likely if the “divide and conquer” mentality continues.

DeSantis’ draft bills eliminate the Best and Brightest, replacing it with a new bonus model. Even though he deemed Best and Brightest “confusing,” the governor’s proposed bill keeps some of the more controversial aspects intact.

The latest iteration did away with using teachers’ college entry test scores, instead basing eligibility on their schools’ gains in the state A-F grading model. That change, combined with the creation of several types of bonuses, made it even harder for teachers to receive smaller amounts than in past years.

Suddenly, they were reliant upon the test results of all students in their schools, regardless of whether they taught them. That part stays in the newest plan.

The governor would base the new bonuses on the percentage point gain a school sees in its school grade. The highest levels would go to schools that see their scores rise by 6 or more percentage points, with smaller amounts to those with lower growth.

As a comparison point, only about half of the state’s schools qualified for the Best and Brightest bonus that used grading gains of an average of 3 percentage points. That included 60 percent of A-rated schools, 57 percent of B schools, 45 percent of C schools and 18 percent of D schools.

This program, too, would use the same definition of “classroom teacher” that caused the complaints mentioned above. And it addresses the challenge raised by some teachers after districts withheld taxes from their bonus checks, making clear that districts would have the authority to use the bonus funds for tax deductions, potentially lowering the award amount.

Beyond the raise and bonus proposals, DeSantis also unveiled a draft bill to expand the voucher program he signed into law after the 2019 session.

He would extend eligibility to children in military families transferred permanently to Florida. He also would give those children priority, along with students who qualify for free lunches.

Additionally, DeSantis would allow children entering kindergarten through second grade to receive a voucher without having attended a public school in the previous year, something that had not been permitted in the past except for kindergartners. The following year, he would expand that criteria to youngsters entering third, fourth and fifth grades.

The bill further would increase the growth rate for the vouchers, allowing an annual expansion of 0.5 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment — that would be up from the current 0.25 percent.