(TNS) — Starting teacher salaries in Florida public schools would jump to $47,500 under a plan Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday, saying the pay hike would help solve the state’s teacher shortage and improve education.
“Having a great teacher in front of the students is really the best thing you can do,” DeSantis said as he announced his plans at a high school near Jacksonville.
DeSantis said his budget recommendation to the Florida Legislature will include $603 million to boost the “minimum starting salary” for teachers.
The proposal, if adopted by lawmakers, would increase pay for about 100,000 public school teachers, he said. Florida has more than 172,000 public school teachers, according to the Florida Department of Education.
Starting pay in Florida’s public schools varies by district, but it is about $40,000 in most Central Florida school systems. The statewide average for starting pay is less than $38,000, according to the governor’s office.
The Legislature was told last month that Florida faces an economic slowdown in coming years, but DeSantis said paying for his salary proposal was “easily doable” within the state’s expected budget.
Sen. Rob Bradley, the Florida Senate’s budget chief, appeared with DeSantis at Middleburg High School in Clay County, which is part of his district, and signaled his support.
Public schools in Clay County, he said, “are central to who we are in this community” and good teachers are the “heart” of the school district’s success.
“If we fail to retain and attract good teachers going forward than we will not be able to continue the success we’ve had,” Bradley said.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, also appearing with DeSantis, said Florida’s starting pay now ranks it 26th in the nation and the governor’s proposal would leap it into second place, behind only New Jersey.
“It’s a great day,” he said.
Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis said the proposal would help public schools put “first-round draft picks in our classroom every day.”
He added, “You know who wins today? Students win today.”
DeSantis plans to discuss his pay plan at two other stops today, one in Broward County and one in Pinellas County.
Teachers across Florida have been demanding better pay in the recent years and arguing against bonus plans that Republican leaders, including DeSantis, have supported in the past. They’ve argued bonuses are one-time payments that provide no long-term financial security and do not help teachers looking to buy homes or cars.
Florida’s average teacher salary of $48,168 in 2018 ranked it 46th in the nation, according to the National Education Association.
“Pay Public School Employees Now,” the Florida Education Association tweeted earlier Monday. “Governor DeSantis, public school employees have had ENOUGH with unfair pay schemes.”
Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, said the governor’s proposal left her unsure about whether he intended to address pay for veteran teachers, too.
Would they get pay hikes or find that new colleagues were suddenly making nearly what they were — which would upset, not help retain, experienced instructors, Dormoal said.
“There’s so many questions,” she added.
©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.