School teachers protest for higher wages at a Miami-Dade School Board meeting. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
What was State Sen. Dennis Baxley trying to say last week, when key senators were discussing raises for Florida public school teachers who earn low salaries compared to most states.
Baxley, a Republican who represents Sumter and parts of Lake and Marion Counties, has a net worth of more than $3-million, according to the most recent state financial disclosure records.
At an education appropriations meeting, he rose in support for a bill to set aside a new, specific pot of money to increase starting teacher pay, and other measures.
(Overall, the state Senate is proposing $500-million to boost teacher pay in 2020-21 – an initiative pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants $47,500 for starting teacher pay.)
But following that support, Baxley said, “You have to keep things in perspective. This is a herculean step forward in the amount of money that we’re devoting to salaries….It is a lot of people. It is a big nut to crack when you give raises and you designate money for raises over such a tremendous size population.”
He noted that in some of the counties where he serves, there has been testimony about “inadequate salaries of $60,000.”
But, “That’s three times the average income in many of these counties,” Baxley said. “So you have to keep it in perspective. Maybe you’re worth twice that or three times that….
I hear people complain that they had three or four jobs. I’ve always had three or four jobs, to keep going.”
He added, “I have five kids and eight grandkids. That’s a big machine. Takes a lot of grease. And had to do multiple things to make that work. And I know that’s challenging. I know that’s very challenging.”
With a trillion-dollar economy and one of the largest student populations in the nation, Florida’s average salary for public school teachers is just $48,168. That ranks Florida as 46th among all states and the District of Columbia, based on 2017-18 statistics from the National Education Association.
The Florida Department of Education’s data for 2018-19 show an average of $48,486 for some 176,000 school teachers. The median figure was lower, $45,947.
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