Florida governor pitches $1,000 bonus for principals, teachers from state budget

Gov. Ron DeSantis is asking the Florida Legislature to provide bonuses for public school principals and teachers, using $216 million in federal pandemic relief money earmarked for education.

The governor is floating $1,000 bonuses for public school principals and classroom teachers in grades PreK-12, which he estimates would go to 3,600 principals and nearly 180,000 teachers throughout the state.

DeSantis announced the plan on Wednesday at Palm Harbor University High School, where he said his request to provide bonuses is "a token of the appreciation" for school employees who worked amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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"Having the doors open has been a huge, huge success," DeSantis said. "We have people who move from these other states just because we have schools open."

The bonuses would be in addition to $550 million for teacher pay raises DeSantis included in his budget proposal for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. House and Senate budget leaders’ preliminary recommendations, however, set funding for teacher pay increases at $500 million, in a continuation of salary hikes approved during last year’s legislative session.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran endorsed DeSantis’ plans for the federal stimulus funds, saying Wednesday that teachers helped preserve a sense of normalcy for students during the pandemic.

"They, in this time of uncertainty, were the certainty for our children," Corcoran said.

Classrooms were shuttered last year in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, but DeSantis and Corcoran were adamant that schools offer in-person instruction to students when the school year began last fall. The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said that all public school workers --- not just teachers and principals --- deserve the bonuses.

"We support money for teachers and school staff, as almost all have put in extra time and their own personal resources to keep kids safe and learning during Covid," FEA president Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement. "They transformed the learning system in March of last year and then again in August as we reopened. Recommending a $1,000 bonus for some school employees continues the governor’s strategy of picking winners and losers in our schools. It takes a village to educate Florida’s children."