This could be the year of the teacher in the Florida Legislature. For more than two decades, Republican governors and legislative leaders have micromanaged their classrooms, evaluated them using factors they could not control and failed to adequately reward them for educating the state’s children. Now Gov. Ron DeSantis has shifted the debate by calling for significant salary increases and a reworked bonus program, and when the legislative session opens Tuesday the pressure will be on his fellow Republicans to deliver.
The governor’s ambitious proposal calls for raising the minimum salary for teachers by nearly $10,000. That would raise the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 and increase the salaries of more than 100,000 of the state’s 170,000 teachers. With a price tag of more than $600 million, it will be difficult to find the money in an era where tax increases are off the table and the state faces pressing needs in areas ranging from prisons to social services. But Florida’s average teacher salary ranks a pathetic 46th in the nation, and it’s past time for the third-largest state to make a statement that it values teachers and public education.
Any bold goal comes with messy details, and this one is no exception. DeSantis has not directly addressed how to ensure veteran teachers are fairly treated and a fair minimum salary does not compress the salary range between beginning teachers and more experienced ones. Teacher pay is set by each school district, not the state. And it’s unclear what would happen to collective bargaining between each school district and its teachers’ union. But those are issues lawmakers can work out if they aim high, and it will be up to the governor to make sure they do.
Continuing to fiddle with a teacher bonus plan is more problematic. DeSantis proposes scrapping the existing bonus plan and replacing it with a "performance pay'' plan. But it is a simplistic approach that would tie bonuses to whether their schools rose by a certain percentage on test scores that make up the state’s flawed school grading program. The governor gets credit for proposing to double bonuses at Title 1 schools, which have a high portion of low-income students and need more incentives to attract good teachers to more challenging classrooms. But an outstanding teacher at an under-performing school would not get a bonus, and it’s unwise to create a system that could pit teacher against teacher.
Here’s one idea: Take the money allocated to a bonus program and redirect it toward raising teacher salaries.
Entering his second year as governor, DeSantis is riding high in opinion polls. Unlike his predecessor, he engages with legislative leaders and negotiates so everyone comes out a winner. He has increased the stakes with his bold push to significantly raise teacher salaries, and the next 60 days will test his leadership skills and his ability to deliver on big ideas.
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