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Teacher pay increases included in mostly complete state budget, DeSantis says

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Teacher pay increases included in mostly complete state budget, DeSantis says

Jun 10, 2024 | 4:16 pm ET
By Jay Waagmeester
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Teacher pay increases included in mostly complete state budget, DeSantis says
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Gov. Ron DeSantis announces the 2024-25 budget will include a $1.25 billion increase in teacher pay at a news conference hosted at a Hialeah charter school on June 10, 2024. (Screenshot via the governor's X livestream)

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced $1.25 billion in teacher salary increases during the fiscal year that opens on July 1 during a news conference hosted Monday by the City of Hialeah Educational Academy, a charter school. 

That represents an increase of $200 million over the appropriation for teacher pay in the current-year state budget, the governor said, and the allocated funds will be eligible solely for teacher pay.

“I don’t want it going to the head of the teacher union,” DeSantis said Monday. “I want it to go to the teacher.”

Florida ranks second-worst in teacher pay nationwide, according to the National Education Association (NEA). The average starting salary for teachers in Florida is $48,286, according to the governor’s office. The national average starting teacher salary is $44,530, according to the NEA. 

The average teacher salary in Florida, according to the union, is $53,098, more than $16,000 below the national average of $69,544. 

DeSantis emphasized that U.S. News & World Report has ranked Florida as the best state in the United States for education, but that in part reflects the state’s ranking for higher education. The magazine ranked Florida No. 10 for K-12 education. 

The governor made several jabs at teachers’ unions, criticizing their effectiveness at negotiating salaries and the cost of dues. 

“We’re raising pay in spite of those unions, not because of them, with what we’ve done in the Florida Legislature,” DeSantis said. “So, keep that in mind.”

Union responds

Teacher pay increases included in mostly complete state budget, DeSantis says
Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association. Credit: FEA Officer portrait

In a news conference hosted later in the day by the Florida Education Association (FEA), teachers and parents complained that Florida schools struggle with staffing, including teachers, bus drivers, and kitchen personnel, due to low pay and salary compression. That means that although the state has hiked pay for starting teachers, more experienced staff haven’t benefited accordingly, FEA President Andrew Spar said.

Kelley Stephenson, a public-school teacher who serves as president of the Walton County Education Association, said teachers want to be included when state leaders determine the school budget. 

“We are the professionals in the classroom,” Stephenson said. “We want to be at the table when Gov. DeSantis or whoever is going to make these decisions. Come to the teachers. We know what it’s like. He’s not come to my school. He doesn’t know what it’s like. We can tell you what it’s like. We’ll be honest with what it’s like. If they’re ready for that conversation.”

Students at the news conference told stories of teachers vacating classrooms mid-year because their pay didn’t keep up with the cost of living.

Lakisha Ayers-White, a school bus driver and vice president of Flagler Education Support Staff, asked for more support so that fewer employees would have to rely on second and third jobs. 

“[School support staff] are the ones that assist the students that need the extra support,” Ayers-White said. “But yet, this governor continues to leave out support staff out of every conversation. We need our governor to show up and support us like we support our students. One job should be enough.”

Still waiting for budget

Joining DeSantis in the morning were Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr., and other state and local officials at the charter school, which specializes in health- and law-related career preparation. 

The teacher pay increase is included in the Legislature’s $117.5 billion state budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, but legislative leaders have not yet sent the Appropriations Act for the governor’s signature. However, DeSantis’ aides have been screening spending in preparation for possible line-item vetoes. The budget year opens on July 1.

During his news conference, DeSantis said he likes “I would say probably 90% of the budget at this point.”

“We’re going through kind of the last, last stages of that. Some of these legislators that may have different projects; this is going to be probably the week that all that all comes to a head,” DeSantis said. “And so, we haven’t made final decisions on every little line item in the budget.”