Full-time Florida public school teachers could see their incomes rise later this year if Governor Rick Scott gets his way. The Governor is proposing a $2500 pay raise, but it has to make it through the legislature first.
“There was some buzz about it, some teachers talking about it discussing it, of course it was positive feedback," said Farrah Donaldson, an English and History teacher at Wakulla High School.
Donaldson is halfway through his first year as a full-time teacher after having served as a teacher’s assistant for the past two years. He got to work with a lot of teachers, and saw first-hand how much of their own money teachers have invested into their classrooms. Now he finds himself doing similar things for his students.
“There are certain allotments for classrooms, but it doesn’t go as far as it should. If I see something that will help my students or my class, I’ll pick it up. Sometimes you can be reimbursed, but it’s not really a big deal because it's for the students and that’s what’s important.”
Still, those odds and ends add up. And teachers, like other state employees, are dealing with smaller paychecks as a result of new pension contribution requirements in addition to the expiration of federal payroll breaks. Many haven’t gotten raises in several years, so Governor Rick Scott’s proposal for an across-the-board $2500 pay raise for full-time educators is being greeted with enthusiasm from those like Donaldson.
“It’s pretty good news. It’s always exciting to get a pay raise," he said.
The Governor estimates it would cost the state about $480 million. Scott, who strongly supported a bill passed two years ago tying teacher pay raises to student performance, says he still believes in merit pay, but also thinks the right thing to do now is give teachers a salary boost:
“Right now I’m focused on the fact that teachers have done a great job. Look at the quality of our education system, look at how hard they’re working, look at the test scores, they’re doing a great job," Scott said.
During his first year in office, Scott oversaw the passage of a law abolishing tenure for new teachers and tying their evaluations to student performance. Those evaluations will determine whether teachers keep their jobs and how much money they will make. Lawmakers cut the education budget by a billion dollars. But after an outcry from the public over the education cuts, last year Scott urged lawmakers to put the money back, which they did. And he’s been reaching out to teachers and their unions to get feedback on the state’s botched rollout of the evaluations and ways to help schools improve. Some have questioned whether the governor’s support of public school teachers is aimed at boosting his low approval ratings and gaining teacher support ahead of his 2014 re-election bid.
“Governor Scott has a daughter who is a teacher. And her teaching background is in students who are hard to deal with, those who have disabilities. I think he comes at he’s feelings on education honestly. I think the governor wants to do the right thing," said Senate President Don Gaetz, dismissing the notion that Scott is making a political move.
In 2014 the Governor could face former Governor Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, who bucked his former Republican party when he vetoed a Senate proposal that tied teacher pay to student performance and banned tenure. In doing so, Crist angered Republicans, but won applause and support from teachers and their union during his failed Congressional bid.
“The governor hasn’t talked to me about his plan or his motives. But Charlie Crist is a politician whose moral compass is like a wet finger in the wind. So, I don’t Governor Scott is that kind of a person," Gaetz said.
The proposed teacher pay raises are also getting a thumbs-up from the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association.
Sound- “We’re starting from behind so this is a good step. It is in the right direction. I applaud the Governor for recognizing that we have to invest in schools and the people who work in them in order to create the workforce this state needs for the future," said FEA President Andy Ford.
But the governors proposed teacher raises could face some challenges in the House.
“There are some wonderful teachers out there who should be recognized and we created a payment system in Senate Bill 736 that does that," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R- Wesley Chapel.
Weatherford says he’s more supportive of a pay raise tied to teacher performance.
“I just think that should be a part of the conversation but we are very happy the Governor is prioritizing education funding and we look forward to working with him on it.”
When the state passed the merit pay legislation two years ago it failed to fund the “merit pay” part of the law. Meanwhile, other state employees could also see salary increases. It’s been about six years since they’ve had a raise, and support for some kind of boost is growing, although lawmakers disagree on whether all or a few state employees should be eligible for it.