Gov. Ron DeSantis is out with his proposed $91.4 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. Part of it is aimed at attracting teachers to the state.
The spending plan is about $400 million over the current budget.
“We’re going to invest $22.9 billion in funding for the [Florida Education Finance Program]; that’s an increase of over a billion dollars over last year,” DeSantis said. “Nine hundred million will represent the initiatives we’ve done for teacher compensation, [along with] teacher and principal bonus programs.”
One of the largest increases is $600 million to raise the minimum salary for public school teachers to $47,500 per year – which DeSantis says would take Florida from 26th in the nation in teacher pay, to number two, behind Illinois, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There were some questions about this when we first rolled it out, because some people said, ‘Is this the starting salary for new teachers?’ No, that’s not the way it works; everybody in Florida will be at a minimum of [$47,500]. That represents 101,000 current teachers that will see a raise.”
That, says the governor, would have a meaningful impact on terms of recruiting and retaining teachers, as would some work with the state’s higher education system.
“I’d like to expand the pool of college graduates who would consider teaching; I think this is one way that you could do it,” said DeSantis. [Education Sec. Richard] Corcoran said he’s already getting calls from people in other states [asking], ‘Are you guys really going to do that? We’ll move to Florida if you’re going to do that.’ So I think it’s really going to make an impact.”
Add to that, $300 million for the Florida Classroom Teacher and Bonus Program – which would replace the existing “Best and Brightest” bonus program.
“Which has gone through these iterations [and] I think was well-intended; but I don’t know if that really ever hit the mark,” said the governor. The $300 million is going to provide up to $7,500 in teacher bonuses and I think $10,000 in principal bonuses.”
The focus of the new program is on teachers and principals in so-called Title-1 schools, which receive funds to meet the educational needs of students living at or near poverty levels. DeSantis also has a number of other proposals for education.
“We’ll have a $50 increase in the Base Student Allocation; an additional $25 million for a total of $100 million for mental health initiatives in our schools,” said DeSantis. “And we’re going to continue the momentum we’ve had with workforce education; $25 million in different workforce initiatives.”
Martin Powell, the Florida Education Association’s chief of staff, feels the governor’s plan should be just a starting point.
“We are finally having these conversations, which is beneficial,” says Powell. But we need to move into a different direction to make sure we are actually addressing the problems, rather than just putting Band-Aids over them.”
Teacher vacancy numbers are relatively low in the western Panhandle. Santa Rosa is almost at full capacity with only four openings to fill. Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says they’re actively seeking to hire 14 teachers, adding that number could change. And in Okaloosa, about 40 positions await filling.
Also recommended is a $25 million increase for school security and safety grants, and no tuition hike for Florida’s colleges and universities.
“And I think that’s been part of the success for Florida moving up in these rankings,” said DeSantis. “This is becoming a really good value, and you can’t say that about too many other aspects of higher education. It’s like people go really deep into debt, at some of these third- and fourth-year private schools. It’s just crazy.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis contends his education spending blueprint is “bold, it’s meaningful, but within the context of a budget that works.” Legislators will be the judge of that, when the 2020 session on Jan. 14.