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  1. Opinion

DeSantis already a winner even if he loses on teacher raises

He becomes the education governor with his plan to raise minimum teacher salaries even if the Legislature takes a different path, columnist Mac Stipanovich writes.
Mac Stipanovich [STEVE CONTORNO | Special to the Times]
Published Oct. 14

Ron DeSantis may be in his first year as governor, but he didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. He knows a good first impression is proof against a multitude of subsequent sins, which explains at least in part why he has with such great fanfare embraced the twin totems of Florida politics: the environment and public education.

DeSantis came snorting out of the chute on the environment, purging the South Florida Water Management District governing board in dramatic fashion and lifting high the banner of Everglades restoration in word and deed. This good first impression made him an environmental governor in the public’s mind, and so he remains, although environmentalists of purer provenance and longer standing have since been underwhelmed by his devotion to the cause.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his proposal for increasing teacher pay at Middleburg High in Clay County, during the first of three news conferences on Oct. 7, 2019. [Florida Governor's Office]

In recent weeks, public education has been the subject of a similar branding campaign. DeSantis took a plank from the platform of Andrew Gillum, the Democrat he defeated, and went on a press tour touting a proposal for a statewide minimum salary for teachers of $47,500. His proposal is, however, so light on specifics that it is more of a sketch than a plan at this point.

For example, there are no adjustments for differences in costs of living and existing pay scales among Florida’s 67 school districts. An invidious distinction appears to be made between classroom teachers and other instructional personnel, but that is not certain. It is certain the proposal discriminates against veteran teachers by perversely rewarding inexperience, but we are assured this will be remedied in some fashion down the road. And the whole shebang may be unconstitutional.

Given these devilish details and more, plus the proposal’s $603 million price tag, which may or may not include about $120 million in related pension and payroll contributions, one may wonder if this is an initiative about which DeSantis is serious and in which he will invest his considerable political capital without stint, or if it is primarily totem touching. DeSantis insists he means business, that his proposal is not “pie in the sky.”

House Speaker Jose Oliva, is in doubt, responding rather tartly to DeSantis that he will add this latest ask to the $2 billion in new spending already requested by the governor’s agencies for the next budget year. This dynamic reminds me of my daughters asking me if they could go to Daytona Beach for spring break when they were in high school and me responding in the affirmative provided their mother approved, which I knew she would not do even if they pulled her fingernails out with pliers. DeSantis may be counting on Oliva’s prudence.

But regardless of whether DeSantis achieves all, some, or none of his stated goal, he has already won. He is now an education governor. And even his continued cooperation with the Republican-controlled Legislature in vandalizing traditional public education in the name of “school choice” is unlikely to alter this good first impression. At least in the short term.

Mac Stipanovich is a Tallahassee lobbyist and former Republican strategist who was chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez.

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