A Senate education budget proposal includes a higher minimum wage for Florida's school workers
State leaders are considering setting a minimum wage for school workers of $15 an hour. It comes amid staffing shortages in positions such as bus drivers and food service workers.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education is also looking into ways to boost reading levels.
Subcommittee Chairman Doug Broxson, R-Pensacola, read an outline of the funding recommendations Wednesday that included a lot of numbers.
Then, Broxson mentioned a plan to raise wages through money included in the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP), the main funding formula for public schools.
“These historic FEFP increases are provided for an expectation that all school districts will ensure every employee is paid at a minimum wage of at least $15 per hour, beginning in 2022 and 23,” Broxson said, adding that the pay boost would include instructors in voluntary prekindergarten classes. The proposal is for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Broxson says the budget proposal also represents a significant investment toward making sure every child can read by the third grade.
"Too many of our kids, up to 40%, go through the third grade without the ability to read at a third-grade level. This is reprehensible," Broxson said. "This package includes funding that will aid in us making an honest effort to change that narrative."
Broxson says the recommendations place an increased emphasis on early literacy and pre-K education. $30 million would be used to provide financial incentives and awards to early education instructors and child care workers who get additional credentials.
"This is a very important part of the program in that we are going to have more qualified people in the classroom teaching our kids how to read and other basic fundamental skills,” Broxson said.
Help may also be on the way for a troubled school district about half an hour from Tallahassee. The Jefferson County district serves more than 750 mostly Black students. The district had years of failing grades before a charter school operator took over in 2016. That experiment has ended, and the district will resume control in the fall.
"Jefferson County schools are in a little bit of a freefall. As you know, the charter school (operator) that was established by the Department of Education has decided to vacate that county, leaving a great vacuum," Broxson said to members of the budget panel. "We are not going to leave them abandoned, and we are setting aside $5 million to ensure their success. This message will go to the superintendent and the good people of Jefferson County to know that at least the Senate is going to be there for them to help them get through this transition.”
$5 million for Jefferson is a tiny piece of the overall budget recommendation. The Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee is recommending total spending of $24.1 billion for K-12 public schools. That’s an increase of about $1.5 billion from this year.
The proposal now goes to the larger Appropriations Committee, which is working to put together the entire state budget.