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Capital Report: A Look At DeSantis' K-12 Budget Asks; FEA Plans Pre-Session Rally

Governor Ron DeSantis unveiling his fiscal year 2019-2020 budget to the media.
Blaise Gainey

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is calling the 2020 legislative session the ‘Year of the Teacher,’ and recently rolled out his budget asks for K-12 education.

DeSantis made headlines for proposing an increase to minimum teacher salaries of $47,500 in October – a request that would account for $600 million.

“There were some questions about this when we first rolled it out, because some people said ‘Is that the starting salary for new teachers?’ Meaning you could have someone hired next school year at $47,500, and these other teachers would still have $40,000 – no, that’s not the way it works, everybody in Florida will be at a minimum of $47,500,” DeSantis told reporters in November. “So that represents 101,000 current teachers that will see a raise.”

The governor’s budget requests include another $300 million to revamp the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, which will include incentives for teachers and principals tied to their respective schools' grade.

“So we’re getting rid of the Best and Brightest, which had gone through these iterations and I think was well-intentioned, but I don’t think that really ever hit the mark,” DeSantis said. “So that $300 million is going to provide up to $7,500 teacher bonuses and I think up to $10,000 in principal bonuses. But we’re really trying to help and reward teachers in Title 1 schools.”

DeSantis says the majority of schools in the state are designated Title 1, meaning most students that attend are from low-income families. The previous versions of Best and Brightest had been a lightning rod for criticism, with some claiming the money could be better spent to raise salaries across the board, rather than incentive-based non-recurring bonuses.

Overall, the governor proposes putting $22.9 billion into K-12 public schools’ main funding mechanism, the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. That represents a $50 per-student bump to base student allocation, which is flexible funding to individual schools based on enrollment. The previous budget saw a $75 per-student increase to the BSA.

Fedrick Ingram, who heads statewide teachers’ union the Florida Education Association, is critical of several aspects of DeSantis’ plan – particularly revamping Best & Brightest bonuses.

“Bonus programs are a flawed way to pay teachers on the cheap. And Florida has done that far too long. 20 years ago, they started with these performance pay-slash-bonus schemes,” Ingram told WFSU last week.

Ingram says instead, the focus should be on bolstering teacher salaries across the board.

“We should be talking about teachers and educational support professional compensation and salaries going forward, and how that best helps us deal with the teacher shortage that we have,” Ingram said.

When it comes to DeSantis’ proposed boost to minimum teacher salaries, Ingram is skeptical. The governor estimates raising salaries will impact 101,00 teachers – but Ingram is concerned about the other roughly 80,000 teachers in the state:

“Any new money that we can actually identify as new money is a help to the system – but to put it in a framework that’s divisive among teachers, that’s not what we should be doing. When I say divisive, I’m talking about targeting one group of teachers versus another.”

Ingram and FEA staff recently wrapped up a five-week bus tour that went through 30 counties and made 60 stops.

“We talked to not only our members, teachers, educational support professionals – but we also talked to stakeholders, parents and grandparents, civic and social organization,” Ingram said.

The FEA president says the tour left him with two takeaways:

“Two thoughts, one is I’m ever-hopeful, because people care about our schools – they care about their neighborhood school, they care about the school across the street from them.”

Ingram says that means local communities are doing the right things for local schools. But his second takeaway from the tour is the reason Ingram says he sees an angst in educational professionals and stakeholders:

“What people are fed up with is our state government – with this attitude and active disinvestment kind of ideology.”

For that reason, Ingram says on January 13 – the day before the 2020 session – the FEA is inviting public school advocates to come to the Capitol ahead of DeSantis’ State of the State address. He says it’s to gather and urge legislators to “do right by” the students, teachers and support professionals.

Meanwhile, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran applauded DeSantis’ proposed budget, saying in a statement, “We have a lot to be proud of for education in Florida yet we also have realities to face, realities that continue to repeat themselves for every generation of students.”

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.