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Florida’s $500 million teacher raise plan gets mixed reviews

Even key supporters lament that it doesn’t do enough to reward veteran educators.

Karen Laroue is torn over the Florida Legislature’s new teacher pay raise plan.

On the one hand, Laroue, 63, doesn’t stand to benefit from it much.

One of Pasco County’s longest-tenured teachers, at 32 years, she makes more than the $47,500 that lawmakers have set as a desired minimum salary for the state’s district and charter school educators. And as a learning design coach at River Ridge High, she doesn’t fall into the category of classroom instructor that is tagged to get the biggest pay bump.

She might see a 1 or 2 percent pay bump from the deal.

On the other hand, Laroue’s daughter, Taylor — a River Ridge High math teacher — will benefit much more. With three years in the system, she stands to see a pay hike of more than $10,000 under the package the House and Senate agreed to late Sunday.

“I would love for her to have a raise,” Laroue said of her daughter. “But everyone in the school needs a raise. ... I don’t think (the state’s plan) is a good way to retain the experienced teachers who bring the knowledge to the new teachers. To think a veteran teacher would make as much as a teacher who has worked five years is sad."

Lawmakers said they did their best to split the difference among many competing interests, ultimately allotting $400 million to raise the minimum teacher salary and $100 million to raise the pay of veteran teachers and other instructional personnel.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had made increased teacher pay a session priority, focused almost entirely on the minimum wage. His nearly $1 billion plan offered nothing beyond one-time performance bonuses, which many educators criticized as doing nothing to enhance their financial stability, to the veterans making even $1 more than the targeted bottom line.

House leaders, who fretted that DeSantis’ target might break the state’s bank, aimed to funnel the money solely to K-12 classroom instructors, also leaving out the longtime teachers as well as those who didn’t have daily classroom assignments. That ignored counselors, behavior specialists and even prekindergarten teachers.

The Senate, too, was split over whether other school staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers who are among the lowest paid in most districts, should get any of the cash.

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

What emerged in the final hours of the legislative session was a compromise that, like most brokered deals, left everyone a little unenthusiastic.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, chairs the Senate Education Appropriations committee. [STEVE CANNON | Special to the Times]

Even Education Appropriations chairwoman Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said she toyed with opposing the implementing bill, raising strong objections to the way new teachers would earn almost the same amount as seasoned pros.

Emily Morris, a DeSoto County fourth-grade teacher with 18 years in the system, called that part of the proposal frustrating and potentially counterproductive.

“It seems the state continues to put all their eggs in the recruitment basket, resulting in the continual retention basket unraveling,” Morris said in an email. “While they set the starting teacher pay at close to $50k, they will ignore how close that comes to salaries of veteran teachers. The newbies may be drawn to teaching for a paycheck, but won’t last beyond the 3-5 years when a large majority walk out.”

Stargel expressed that worry, as well. But “pressing the red button on this bill means teachers don’t get raises,” she said during floor debate, stressing the need to improve the offer in coming years.

Related: Why is Florida suddenly bullish on teacher pay? Big business is on board.

Florida Education Association vice president Andrew Spar said the state’s largest teacher union looked at the package, which still awaits a final vote and the governor’s signature, as half full.

It did away with the disliked bonuses, Spar noted, and looked beyond base pay to give at least a nod to veteran educators and teachers without daily classroom assignments.

“It’s not exactly what we were looking for,” he said. Still, “the Legislature did heed our concerns. ... It’s better than what the governor proposed. But clearly there is a lot of work to do.”

Some educators were less positive.

One Broward County teacher with 28 years experience noted she earns about $58,000 this year. Yet about a decade ago, a teacher with the same years of service in the same district made closer to $70,000.

“This is shameful,” the teacher wrote on Facebook.

Others also lamented the package does little to repair that backward slide, given the other financial requirements that districts face.

“With health insurance increases and money owed to (the state retirement fund), there probably won’t be any money left for raises,” Stephanie Geyfman, a Barrington Middle School science teacher, commented on Facebook. “I have 20 years in (Hillsborough County schools), with a masters — highly effective and I make $60K. ... I will not see a raise for three more years, and then I won’t see anything but maybe $250 or $500 until retirement — as the pay scale ends at year 23.”

Newer teachers see it, too.

“It’s a raise for new teachers if your district has the money, and scraps for veteran teachers if your district had the money to fund the new teachers,” observed Stacie Dern, a third-year Duval County middle school teacher who ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2016. “How can they call this a minimum if they aren’t going to fund it so all teachers get a raise?”

Veteran Duval County teacher and blogger Chris Guerrieri suggested that $100 million to spread among longtime educators and non-classroom instructional staff in 67 counties just isn’t enough. Having killed a $300 million bonus program to make it happen, he suggested, lawmakers should have done better.

“The entire things is a sham meant to gin up headlines, not to help the profession,” Guerrieri said via email. “That’s my 2 cents, which is also about the raise I anticipate getting.”

Lawmakers said they expect to revisit raises again next year.

• • •

Money for raises

Florida lawmakers set aside $500 million in their 2020-21 budget to bolster teacher salaries. Of that amount, 80 percent would go toward improving classroom teachers’ minimum salary, and 20 percent would supplement the pay of other instructional employees. The total is to be distributed among districts proportionately.

HERNANDO

Minimum salaries: $3,070,634

Other employees: $767,658

HILLSBOROUGH

Minimum salaries: $30,912,259

Other employees: $7,728,065

PASCO

Minimum salaries: $10,649,556

Other employees: $2,662,389

PINELLAS

Minimum salaries: $13,640,193

Other employees: $3,410,048

Source: Florida Legislature 2020-21 FEFP Final Conference Calculation (page 38 of 48)

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