The Phoenix Flyer

Oops. FL Education Commissioner Corcoran jokes that “nobody wants to teach in New Jersey,” and tough NJ sets the record straight

By: - November 27, 2019 2:03 pm

FL Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, with Gov. Ron DeSantis, discusses starting teacher salaries. Credit: Governor Ron DeSantis Facebook page.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran spoke recently at a news conference about pushing starting salaries for public school teachers to $47,500.

If the Legislature approves, Florida would have the second highest average starting teacher salary of all states. But New Jersey’s starting salaries would be the highest.

That’s when Corcoran made a joke about the Garden State being No. 1 for average starting salaries.

“I always joke,” Corcoran said. “I said the reason we chose 2 is because No. 1 was New Jersey, and nobody wants to teach in New Jersey. I can say that in Florida.”

That didn’t exactly sit well with high-ranking New Jersey.

“New Jersey’s public schools are the best in the nation,” said Steve Baker, director of communications at the New Jersey Education Association. The  union represents more than 200,000 members, including about 126,000 teachers. It’s one of the strongest teacher unions in the nation, Baker said.

“We believe that because we have fantastic educators — fantastic educators want to teach in New Jersey,” Baker said.

Baker noted that New Jersey ranks first in the nation in the grading system called Quality Counts 2019: Grading the States. The ranking is based on an analysis by the Education Week Research Center. The factors include school finance, socioeconomic indicators and academic achievement.

The analysis shows that Florida’s academic achievement fell below New Jersey in all achievement categories, including key 4th and 8th grade reading and math scores, graduation rates, and high Advanced Placement results. [AP offers dozens of rigorous classes across the nation that culminate in exams that can give students credit for college classes.]

As to the SAT college entrance exam used for college admissions, Florida’s average in 2019 was 999 in reading, writing and math, compared to 1090 for New Jersey.

The data related to average starting teacher salaries in the nation comes from the National Education Association. The figures are for 2017-18.

Florida has an average starting salary of $37,636 in the NEA analysis, which ranks 26th of the 50 states. It’s lower than the national average of $39,249.

Washington D.C. public schools actually had the highest starting salary in the analysis — $55,209.

But based on the 50 states, New Jersey is the highest, at $51,443.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.