For Years There's Been Talk Of Raising Teacher Salaries. Will Florida Leaders Actually Do It?

Sep 27, 2019

A physics teacher writes on his chalkboard in a classroom.
Credit Photo by Tra Nguyen / UnSplash

Could Florida teachers get a long awaited raise this year? Governor Ron DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, and Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley have all discussed it, and the state’s largest teacher’s union is calling for it. But there are plenty of questions about how and whether teachers will get anything.

During a recent State Board of Education meeting in Jacksonville the newest member, AT&T executive Joe York made a case for teacher raises.

“I believe salary matters," he told the board and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. "Where we spend our money shows what we value. It’s evidence of what we value…and I think the same will be true of our state budget.”

In recent years, some teachers have seen pay boosts through bonuses, not salary increases, and Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram argues those bonuses, awarded through the state’s “Best and Brightest” program, have never counted for much.

“We think all bonus programs for teachers are unsatisfactory and they don’t work in the long haul. This is the cheap way to pay teachers," he said. 

Not to mention, being problematic. There have been several lawsuits over the bonus system.

The state of Florida does not set base pay for teachers. Salaries are largely negotiated at the local level and between local unions and districts. However, the state does allocates the money that trickles down to those districts.

According to the National Education Association Florida is near the middle of states when it comes to starting teacher salaries, but it’s 46th in terms of average compensation. 

“For Leon Schools you have to work for 20 years…to reach the $49,000 mark. And wage increases such as steps, were done away with by a law passed in 2011. So now everything is performance pay. But it hasn’t been funded. So with that, it’s been hard to keep up with the salary increases needed to fund a living wage," said Leon County Classroom Teachers Association President Scott Mazur. 

That low pay has real world consequences. Just a quick search of teacher positions on sites like Indeed reveal more than 3,000 teacher vacancies. The problem is so severe Florida lawmakers attempted to ease some testing standards earlier this year to make it easier to get people in front of classrooms. It’s not a new problem, either. 

“I’ve been involved in the reform movement for over a decade. And I couldn’t have predicted the current conditions and the lack of interest in going into education that we’re seeing today," former Palm Beach Superintendent Robert Avossa told lawmakers in 2017. 

Around that same time, Shirl Williams was setting up a booth at a job fair at Florida A&M University. She was actively trying to recruit teachers to Jackson County. When students approached her booth, she jumped in for the sell.

“We’ve got incentives in our district, we hope it comes into fruition—first month’s rent in the housing area, free cable for a year," she explained to two students.

But even with offers of free rent and cable, and paid moving expenses, it still wasn’t enough to sway Karina Gordon, who was job hunting that day.

“I don’t really know. It all depends," Gordon said. 

So, will this be the year Florida teachers see an actual pay hike? Senate Budget Chairman Rob Bradley has some ideas.

“You could do a bonus program, change how you do the bonus program, or do salary increases that are mandated instead of giving money to the district and having them, on an individual district basis, make those decisions.”  

But even if Florida does decide to raise teacher salaries, it still may not be enough. Mazur says the profession deserves more respect and that it should extend to all the people who make schools run.

“What people need to realize is that public education – the folks that work at a school site, regardless of the content area and regardless of instructional or non-instructional – they all have a part to play in a positive impact on students,” Mazur said. “Until everybody in the entire system is treated with respect and provided with a career path, we’re going got have these shortages."