Florida cuts fees on teachers, salaries still near the bottom

Florida cuts fees on teachers, salaries still near the bottom

(Fla.)  On the heels of a new survey placing teacher salaries in Florida near the bottom nationally, the state board of education moved to lower registration and certification fees that could save educators collectively as much as $5 million annually.

Meanwhile, critics continue to look skeptically at Gov. Ron DeSantis proposal to spend $423 million next year on bonuses for high-performing classroom educators and school principals.

Although the grants of up to $10,000 each are welcomed overall, Democratic lawmakers note that less than a third of the state’s 180,000 teachers would be in line to receive the bonuses.

“Simply put, a bonus is not a raise and will not impact the lives of all teachers throughout Florida,” said state Sen. Janet Cruz, in a statement. “If we are going to end this growing teacher shortage and recruit and retain the best possible educators for our children, it’s vital that Florida offer a base salary for all school personnel that is competitive with the rest of the nation.”

According to an annual salary survey out this month from the National Education Association, the average pay for Florida’s teachers was $48,168 in 2017-18. That places Florida 46th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The national average in 2017-18 stood at $60,462, up from the $59,534 average salary teachers in the U.S. earned in 2016-17.

The highest average pay is provided in New York, $84,227; and the lowest is paid in Mississippi at $44,926.

While the rollback in state fees charged teachers on registration filings and exams will provide only minimal impacts, the new administration does appear to be paying close attention to the growing political might among school employees.

In addition to the proposed bonuses, DeSantis has also included in his budget a plan to double per-pupil funding from $101 to $224. He would also provide $50 million in new money to promote safe schools, and $10 million toward a mental health program.

DeSantis’ overall K-12 budget would be $21.7 billion.

Florida’s teachers overwhelmingly supported DeSantais’ opponent in the 2018 election—Democrat Andrew Gillum, who had promised to raise starting pay to $50,000.

Given the volatile nature of politics in the Sunshine State, it is interesting to note that a statewide walkout by K-12 teachers here has not occurred for more than a half century. And because of that event, teachers are barred from walking out.

It all happened in 1968 after then Gov. Claude Kirk, a Republican, proposed a massive $150 million cut in state support for education. The strike went on for three weeks, but Kirk and the GOP Legislature held firm.

A few years later, however, lawmakers approved a collective bargaining law, allowing the union to negotiate on behalf of teachers with their employers. From there, teachers earned paid holidays, and an employer-backed retirement, today’s state pension.

Those gains were offset, however, by laws that prohibit public employees from going on strike—including teachers.

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