Governor DeSantis teacher pay plan faces questions

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday continued his full-throated support of a plan to increase minimum teacher salaries in Florida to $47,500, but Senate President Bill Galvano cautioned it might be difficult to carry out.

Speaking to reporters and editors gathered at the Capitol for an annual event hosted by the Associated Press, Galvano said teacher pay issues are negotiated by school officials at the local level, rather than directed from Tallahassee.

“There are some policy discussions that have to take place to determine whether or not we want to step into the area of the local governments … and create a (funding) categorical at the state level,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. “So while there’s a shared commitment, the details and the numbers and how it might work and if it will work have yet to be determined.”

School districts get most of their money for expenses such as salaries through a state formula, known as the Florida Education Finance Program. Lawmakers also can direct pots of money, known in Tallahassee-speak as categoricals, for specific purposes --- a potential approach in setting a statewide minimum salary.

DeSantis has made a top priority of the $47,500 minimum salary for the 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 14. Speaking at the Associated Press event before Galvano, DeSantis said the session needs to be the “year of the teacher.”

The plan would cost about $600 million, but DeSantis said increasing the minimum salary to $47,500 would help in recruiting new teachers and would help many experienced teachers.

“That actually provides a raise for the majority of current teachers because it’s not just for starting teachers. It’s every teacher would need to be paid a minimum salary of $47,500,” DeSantis said. “Well, you look around the state, I mean you have teachers starting in places like Miami and Broward at $40-41ish, those are pretty tough places to get by on that. So that will be a relief for them. Then you have other places, some of the rural communities, where they may not have as many (in the) pool of people, all of a sudden that’s going to be more attractive.”

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DeSantis said he also is looking at providing teacher and principal bonuses in addition to the minimum salary, though he has not released details of such a proposal.

Galvano also expressed caution about bonus programs, saying they “are difficult right out of the gate.”

“It’s because of the … local nature of the compensation for teachers, these programs become very difficult to manage at the state level,” Galvano said.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, has also expressed concerns about DeSantis’ proposal because of its potential cost. State economists have forecast an economic slowdown that would affect the state budget in the coming years.

"I am in receipt of the Governor's statement regarding teacher compensation as I am of the over $2B ($2 billion) of new spending requests from his agencies,” Oliva said in a prepared statement Oct. 7 after DeSantis released the plan. “The legislative process will properly vet these among all other state concerns. My initial thought is one of gratitude for those who came before us and saw it fit to bind us and all future legislatures to a balanced budget."

The Florida Education Association teachers union, meanwhile, contends DeSantis’ plan doesn’t go far enough because it wouldn’t raise pay for teachers who make more than the proposed minimum salary or for other school employees.

“We want a compensation package that is going to be all-inclusive and is going to respect everybody on every level,” Florida Education Association Fedrick Ingram said during a news conference Monday at the Capitol. “The governor’s proposal simply doesn’t do that. It falls short of including everybody.”

But DeSantis laughed Tuesday when asked about the arguments of the union, which typically supports Democrats in state races.

“It’s just funny … look, let’s not pretend there’s not politics involved in this. I mean it’s just a fact of the matter. I’m a Republican, they’re not. And so what I am doing is never going to be enough,” DeSantis said. “My job is not to do what the union wants. It’s what I think’s best for education and particularly for individual teachers.”

--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.