Teacher with students in elementary school science class. Credit: Getty Images
Florida’s ongoing efforts to boost starting salaries for public school teachers are making a difference, as a new report ranks the state at 16th in the nation for starting teacher pay, up from 30th the year before.
But national, statewide, and local teacher unions noted that Florida has made little progress toward raising the overall average teacher salary in the state, arguing that a legislative focus on raising pay for starting teachers has left experienced teachers behind.
“We all want our students to get a high-quality education, and we know it takes qualified teachers and staff to make that happen. Florida has a severe shortage of educators, due in large part to low pay,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said in a written statement Tuesday.
The FEA is an affiliate of the National Education Association, which reports annually on teacher pay across the nation and estimates for trends for the ongoing year.
In the 2022 report, the NEA notes that Florida’s average starting teacher salary for the 2020-21 school year was $44,040, placing it at #16 among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
This ranking follows efforts by Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers to increase state funding for starting teacher pay.
In 2020, the Legislature approved $500 million toward a goal of a $47,500 starting salary for all teachers, with additional funds added since. But it is not clear when all of Florida school districts will reach the $47,500 goal, for starting pay, if at all.
And some teacher unions have argued that prioritizing starting pay without additionally increasing the salaries of experienced teachers is driving veteran teachers teachers from the profession.
Spar with the FEA continued:
“The upshot is that while salaries improve for new teachers, experienced educators are left behind. Improving pay for all career levels would help keep experienced professional teachers in front of our students and attract new people to the field.”
The NEA data show that, during the 2019-20 school year, the average salary of public school teachers in Florida was $49,102, placing Florida 49th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
In the 2022 report earlier this week, Florida ranked 48th, with the average salary of public school teachers at $51,009 in the 2020-21 school year.
Florida Department of Education data reflect average teacher salaries in 2020-21 of $51,166.59, although that discrepancy does not appear to affect the NEA’s ranking.
The average teacher salary for the whole nation is $65,293. New York ranked the highest for 2020-21 with $90,222 and Mississippi ranked lowest with an average teacher salary of $46,862.
‘School districts will continue to struggle’
The Broward Teachers Union, in one of Florida’s largest school districts, released a statement following the report.
“In average teacher salaries, Florida only moved up one slot in state rankings, from 49th to 48th. Unfortunately, since the Florida Legislature has imposed new state mandates without any accompanying funding, school districts will continue to struggle to adequately pay our educators and support staff,” the statement said.
“In Broward County, the extreme shortage of qualified teachers and support staff will continue unless educators’ salaries drastically improve.”
The NEA report estimates the average salary during the ongoing 2021-22 academic year at about $51,230.
“In short, the new Florida law did little to help experienced teachers and will leave them behind for years to come,” the NEA’s report says of Florida.
Checking in on the progress of Florida starting teacher pay is difficult, partly because data from a national perspective suffers a bit of a lag and local district-level union bargaining takes time to implement statewide pay raise initiatives.
In 2021-22, the Legislature approved $550-million to get districts closer to the goal of $47,500 for starting pay.
As for the 2022 session, Florida lawmakers approved $800 million for 2022-23. DeSantis has not yet signed the 2022-23 budget, but has promised to approve that money for teacher pay increases.
The appropriation includes has more flexibility than in previous years, meaning that more veteran teachers could see a higher salary increase.
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