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DeSantis Transition: Education Policy Coming Into Focus


Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis is crafting his policy agenda and has turned to a group of thinkers from across the state to help. One of those groups, the Education and Workforce Transition Committee, is working on its proposals for the incoming administration.

DeSantis has floated the idea of setting a threshold for classroom spending, akin to Medical Loss Ratios in Healthcare. DeSantis proposes 80 percent of education dollars going directly into the classroom. It may sound like a good idea, but what exactly does that classroom spending include?

"I think to a great extent the reporting system is opaque. The definitions from district-to-district are not adhered to," says Transition team member and physician Andy Jacob. He says he's tried looking at and comparing district expense reports, but can't make anything out of them. Even the definition of who constitutes a teacher varies.

Jacob says, "before we answer the question of how much money should be given for direct instruction, we should have a uniform reporting system and some very clear definitions.”

Furthermore, not all school districts are created equal. The spending target may be easier for larger districts to hit because they have more money and resources.  And state education board vice chairman Andy Tuck says 80 percent may be a hard goal for smaller and rural districts to reach because they have fewer resources, and he wants to see a conversation about sharing services among cash-strapped districts.

“We gotta have bus drivers, food services, we gotta have all these things, Tuck says. " I’m not saying we’re totally top heavy, but there are some things we could look at privatizing or working with others on an overall picture.”   

Then there’s the always-present issue of teacher pay. In Leon County, teacher salaries and benefits already make up around 80 percent of the district’s budget, and Florida ranks in the lower third of states when it comes to how much it pays its teachers. Both Texas and Georgia pay about $5,000 more and rank far higher, even though they’re similarly sized.

“In Florida, we just have to figure out how the masses of educators feel they start every day out with fair and appropriate compensation before we consider what additional compensation structures look like for performance," Desmond Blackburn, former Superintendent of Brevard Schools," said during the transition team meeting. 

The state has increasingly tied teacher pay to student performance—largely based on standardized tests. The education transition committee is considering more ways to  do that, mostly through the way the state awards bonuses. But Blackburn argues teachers do more than just teach—and not everything can be quantified.

“We’re starting to realize thankfully that the teacher’s responsibility has to do with the entire child and not just a metric. So how do we add in the fullness of our expectation of the teacher into what we eventually compensate them for?” He said. 

The group is also looking at ways of using compensation to encourage teachers to mentor each other, and get non-traditional teachers into the classroom. That could be professionals in other industries who now want to teach what they’ve learned. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis has already staked out his position when it comes to school choice—the selection of former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, signals that DeSantis plans to continue increasing the state’s school choice offerings. The question traditional school advocates are asking is whether they’ll have a seat at the table. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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