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When it comes to raises, who’s a teacher?

The Florida House, Senate have separate views on how to distribute the money, and to whom.
Senate Education Appropriations chairwoman Kelli Stargel and House PreK-12 Appropriations chairman Chris Latvala unveil their proposals to increase teacher compensation the week of Jan. 27, 2020. Their plans are not the same. [The Florida Channel]

During the past week, Florida House and Senate budget chiefs unveiled their recommendations to improve teacher compensation.

The House called for a $650 million “salary enhancement.” The Senate offered $500 million for a “salary increase.”

Neither included bonuses — a key piece of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request.

On Thursday, both chambers released the specifics of their plans in appropriations conforming bills. (SPB 2502, PCB APC 20-05)

How do they differ?

Perhaps most notably, the proposals diverge on who would be eligible for a raise. That could prove particularly contentious, given the recent history on the issue.

First, the context. In the several recent iterations of the Best and Brightest teacher bonus (which both bills would eliminate), only K-12 classroom teachers have been declared eligible to receive any added funds. That peeved many prekindergarten teachers, literacy coaches, guidance counselors and others who work directly and daily with students, and felt dismissed.

Related: Not a Florida classroom teacher? No Best and Brightest for you.

The House bill could set up a similar divide.

It states its goal is to “assist school districts in their recruitment and retention of classroom teachers and other instructional and educational support staff.” But the language prioritizes “classroom teachers,” relying on the same definition used for Best and Brightest.

Districts would have to use the money to increase their minimum teacher pay “by at least 75 percent of the largest salary adjustment made by the school district for a classroom teacher who is rated as highly effective.” It could offer raises to other instructional employees if it has money remaining after complying with that first requirement.

The Senate, in contrast, would offer school districts more latitude. It would allow districts to decide whether to increase minimum salaries for all full-time classroom teachers or for all instructional personnel, including prekindergarten teachers but excluding substitutes.

That broader reach would include social workers, media specialists and a host of other instructional employees, as defined in current law.

Each chamber aimed to speak to concerns that veteran educators raised. Many complained that improving the base pay level would not help those who already exceed it, even by $1. Several called the approach a slap in the face.

To that end, lawmakers called for some of their funding to go toward more seasoned faculty. But they again differ on exactly how.

The Senate spells out that some of the money also may be allocated to increase salaries for “all full-time instructional personnel,” as negotiated locally. The House states that a portion of its total allocation would be used to give raises to teachers who did not benefit from the improved minimum wage, but again, only to the “classroom teachers.”

Just as a reminder, DeSantis took a completely different approach. He recommended $600 million to increase minimum teacher pay, and $300 million for bonuses that he said could go to veteran teachers.

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