For the state’s largest teachers’ union, Gov. DeSantis’ proposed minimum salary increase for beginning teachers is “a starting point.”
In a statement released on Monday, Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, said the union’s members are hoping to hear DeSantis’ plans “to retain experienced teachers” and “provide fair competitive pay” for all other school district employees, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians.
On Monday, DeSantis announced a budget recommendation to increase the minimum starting salary for teachers to $47,500. Right now, beginning teachers in Florida earn an average salary of $37,636, according to the National Education Association. If state lawmakers approve funding for the proposed pay hike, Florida would rank second highest in the nation for starting teacher pay.
“This is long overdue, and I look forward to working with the legislature to make this a reality,” DeSantis said.
After DeSantis’ announcement, Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Miami) expressed some reservations about the proposal, which would cost an estimated $603 million in next year’s budget.
“My initial thought is one of gratitude for those who came before us and saw it fit to bind us and all future legislatures to a balanced budget,” Oliva said in a statement.
While public education advocates expressed support for DeSantis’ proposed pay raise, they’re calling for a $2.4 billion investment into public education in next year's state budget. That amount mostly includes funding for salary increases for all teachers and support staff.
“He’s talking about increasing beginning teacher pay,” said Alexis Underwood, president of Bay County Association of Educators. “Well, that’s great if you’re right out of college, then it makes it much more attractive to come to Bay County and teach. But the people that we’re losing are walking away because they can’t make it work.”
For nearly 17 years, Underwood has taught English at Mowat Middle School. “I had a part-time job the first ten years that I was a teacher,” she said. While she stayed in the profession, she says she’s seen at least couple of other teachers leave her school.
“One of them left because he fell in love,” Underwood recalled. “But he fell in love with a teacher. And two teachers cannot provide financial security for them to look at getting married and having a home and having kids and capturing that American dream.”
Underwood called on Bay County’s legislative delegation to support teacher pay raises at a public hearing last week.
After the hearing, Rep. Jay Trumbull (R-Panama City) told reporters he supports continued teacher salary increases through the state’s “Best and Brightest” program, a merit-based system that rewards high-performing teachers with bonuses. “I do think we could do some work in those programs,” he said. “It shouldn’t be - as we heard tonight - that they have to get a second job.”
But bonuses are not enough to cover the salary increases that teachers need to keep up with the cost of living, Underwood said. “We appreciate the thought, but bonuses are a tip. When you go to buy a home or put your kids through college, tips don’t help you,” she said.
“The only real solution is for Tallahassee to lift teacher salaries and educational support salaries across the board in Florida.”