DeSantis pushes starting teacher salaries for 3rd year, but reaching goal of $47,500 is still tough

By: - November 10, 2021 7:24 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he wants to allocate $600 million in the 2022-23 state budget to raise starting teacher pay. Nov. 10, 2021 Screenshot/Gov. Ron DeSantis Facebook

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been boosting starting salaries for Florida public school teachers for two years now, and at a press conference Wednesday in Jacksonville, he announced his third effort to reach his goal of $47,500 for starting teachers.

The governor is pushing for another $600 million in the 2022-23 state budget, to “keep the momentum going” on the initiative. Many school districts still haven’t reached that $47,500 goal.

“Our education budget this year is going to have a lot of wins, for families, for students, and for teachers,” DeSantis said.  Just Monday, the governor announced his reelection campaign.

He wants to include another year of $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principles, and boost per-pupil funding to $8,000 — a record for Florida, according to the governor.

The average figure on per-student funding for K-12 schools is $7,811, according to documents from the Florida Department of Education.

However, it’s difficult to compare per-student funding to other states. The National Education Association (NEA) has a state-by state-analysis on public school per-student expenditures and Florida is at $10,273 for 2019-20. That would likely mean federal dollars would be included in the analysis, not just state and local dollars.

Florida’s $10,273 is ranked 43rd of the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C.

States that are ranked much higher are New York, which spends $26,000 per student; New Jersey, $22,000, Massachusetts, $20,000 and Illinois at $17,000.

But Texas is at $10,919, similar to Florida in the NEA analysis. And the lowest per-student funding is Idaho, at $7,700.

In the area of starting teacher pay,  DeSantis in 2019 outlined a $603 million plan to set the minimum salary for all teachers at $47,500 a year, beginning in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

But at the end of the 2020-21 session, the Florida Legislature designated $500 million into what’s called the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation, to be distributed to Florida’s 67 school districts. The funds also included $100 million to improve pay for veteran teachers.

In 2021-22, the Legislative approved $550-million to get districts closer to the goal of $47,500.

DeSantis said that raising starting teacher salaries “continue to attract great people in the teaching profession.”

“We’ve been doing that (raising starting salaries) for the last two years,” DeSantis said at the news conference. “We’re going to be able to do that even more, and this is the highest level we would have done over the past three years.”

For 2022-23 the Legislature may or may not get what DeSantis wants — $600-million.

According to February data from the Florida Education Association, a statewide teacher union, the average minimum salary for all of Florida’s teachers was $44,475 in the 2020-21 school year. This analysis does not include the salary negotiations of six districts: Columbia, Liberty, Martin, Nassau, Orange and Polk.

According to the FEA data, the lowest minimum teacher pay for the 2020-21 school year was in Gadsden County at $38,115, well below the $47,500 figure.

Other North Florida counties have starting salaries lower than $40,000, including Taylor and Union school districts.

Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota in the Tampa area, among other districts, reached the $47,500 goal or got very close. Miami-Dade teachers have a $47,525 starting salary.

Now, districts are in the process of negotiating with their local unions through collective bargaining to include the additional funds from the $550 million for 2021-22.  It’s not yet clear how many districts will actually be able to pay their teachers $47,500 until negotiations are finalized.

Kevin Watson, executive director for Florida School Labor Relations Service, told the Phoenix that “this year’s negotiations are just starting,” and not many districts have settled on salaries following the $550 million boost from the 2021-22 session.

Russell Bruhn, communication staffer with the Brevard County school district located on the Atlantic Coast, told the Phoenix that they are still negotiating with the Brevard Federation of Teachers, but the district is “hopeful” that they will come to an agreement regarding teacher pay raises soon.

Brevard teachers currently start at $46,550. Bruhn said its not yet clear if negotiations this year will reach DeSantis’ goal or not, saying that they’re “still in talks with the union.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.