Florida Senate tags $500 million for teacher pay raises

Sen. Kelli Stargel suggests the state should meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ minimum salary goal ‘over the next several years.’
State Senate Education Appropriations chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, unveils her chamber's 2020-21 education budget proposal during a brief committee meeting on Jan. 28, 2020.
State Senate Education Appropriations chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, unveils her chamber's 2020-21 education budget proposal during a brief committee meeting on Jan. 28, 2020. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published Jan. 28, 2020|Updated Jan. 28, 2020

The Florida Senate jumped further into the ongoing debate over teacher salaries on Tuesday, unveiling a 2020-21 education spending plan that doesn’t go quite as far as Gov. Ron DeSantis had requested.

The upper chamber’s budget proposal calls for $500 million as a “teacher salary increase allocation” — about $100 million less than the governor’s suggestion — and would spread the money differently than DeSantis has recommended.

The Senate would distribute the amount among school districts as a percentage share of total funds, as it does with other categorical line items.

“It requires districts to use 80 percent of their total allocation to increase the minimum classroom teacher salary toward the governor’s stated goal of $47,500, with the intent that this goal would be met statewide over the next several years," explained Education Appropriations chairwoman Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

If districts already have met that minimum target, Stargel continued, and they increase their salaries by 5 percent using their portion of the money, they may spend the remainder on other areas.

The other 20 percent of the allocation would be targeted at veteran teachers, Stargel added, giving districts local discretion in setting further raises.

DeSantis has asked for $600 million to increase the state’s minimum teacher salary to $47,500, saying it would impact more than 100,000 educators. He also has called for $300 million to go into teacher bonuses — something the Senate did not include in its proposal.

Related: Ron DeSantis unveils plan to raise starting pay for Florida teachers

Several senators have raised concerns that the governor’s plan would do nothing for some districts, such as Miami-Dade and Monroe, which already exceed his minimum wage. This proposal addresses such complaints that those districts would be funding the raises in other parts of the state.

It also offers some support for educators who have noted the governor’s proposal did not provide for veteran teachers. And it acknowledges some of the demands that salaries be set locally rather than at the state level.

It’s unclear how close the Senate budget is to the House version, which has yet to be revealed. But at a recent meeting, the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee demonstrated where it could find money through cutting other spending, and its initial amount located for teacher pay was $462 million.

Related: Florida is buzzing about a raise for teachers. Will it happen?

The Senate budget plan included several other highlights. Among them:

• The total budget would rise $762.8 million, to $22.6 billion. That’s about $300 million less than the governor’s budget request. It would increase per-student funding by $181, or 2.37 percent, including a $40 increase in the base student allocation that districts can use more flexibly. The governor asked for $50 per student more in the base student allocation.

• Mental health services would get an added $25 million, similar to a House proposal.

• $52.1 million would go into funding compression.

• Voluntary prekindergarten would see a $1.7 million funding increase.

• Community schools would get an added $2.7 million.

• The Gardiner Scholarship funding would grow by $42 million.

• School hardening for security would gain $42 million more.

Among reductions, the controversial Schools of Hope charter school program would lose $40 million in the Senate’s plan. The Senate also would end the disliked Best and Brightest teacher bonus and remove the $284.5 million in funding.

See the Senate proposal here for more details. (It starts on page 166 of the packet.)