BY CHRIS CORR
Special to the Tampa Bay Times
You probably remember an outstanding teacher who impacted your life: a science teacher who inspired you to become an engineer, or an English teacher who recommended a novel that changed your outlook on life.
These are the kinds of teachers who truly make a difference. And these are the kinds of teachers that we need more of in Florida. But if we want the best, most dedicated teachers for our children, we need to pay them enough to want to enter and stay in the classroom.
The need to bolster teacher salaries is one of the key findings in the Horizons 2040 Project: PreK-12. The comprehensive study is the latest in a series of ground-breaking reports from the Florida Council of 100, a leading nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders for almost 60 years.
Florida gets good grades for rising test scores, fewer achievement gaps and skyrocketing graduation rates over the past 15 years. But the council set out to provide the long-term vision and initiatives to continue building on Florida’s educational success for generations to come.
The result is a report that lights the way for the next 20 years using nine “beacons.’’ They run the gamut, from staying committed to rigorous standards to providing a higher-quality Pre-K system with additional extended programs as needed.
One of the most important recommendations is increasing teacher salaries to recruit and retain the most talented educators. After effective parenting, the No. 1 determinant of a student’s success is having an outstanding teacher.
The report found that innovative teachers and school administrators are vital to providing the kinds of learning environments where students can flourish.
We are encouraged that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran have taken the leadership on this important issue.
Building a better education system doesn’t come without a steep price. Our state is ranked 46th in the nation when it comes to average teacher pay, or about 20 percent below average. And, only 3 percent of Florida ACT test-takers said they wanted to be teachers, the lowest portion in the country.
But we can change that. The report offers specific policy initiatives to move Florida forward and get us where we need to be. These include:
• Raising teachers’ salaries to make them competitive with those of other highly valued professions and comparable to those in the highest-performing states.
• Creating compensation packages for teachers that include incentives like assistance for housing or child care, or forgiveness of student loans.
• Enhancing the image of the teaching profession to make it more attractive to would-be teachers.
• Providing teachers with the leadership skills they need to succeed, such as specialized middle school training.
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• Creating environments where teachers feel they belong, have a voice and are a part of the school team.
The council spent three years crisscrossing the state visiting successful schools and getting input from students, teachers and other leaders. The resulting report envisions a brighter future if we lay the groundwork now.
We owe it to ourselves and our children to commit to enhancing Florida’s education so we all can prosper in years to come. Top-notch, passionate and caring teachers are the ones who can inspire our children to greatness. Let’s make sure Florida’s schools are filled with them.
Chris Corr is the president of Raydient Places & Properties, Rayonier, and the chair of the Florida Council of 100, a nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders.