On Thursday, a House panel mulled teacher compensation, an interesting concept in light of a gubernatorial proposal to raise the pay of rookie teachers to the second highest rate in the nation.
Framed as a recruitment tool by DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the ask was immediately criticized on the left and the right.
The House Speaker framed it as more free spending from the Governor. The Florida Education Association said the proposal ignored experienced teachers.
Committee chairman Chris Latvala discussed the pitch after the meeting.
Describing himself as a “strong supporter” of the Best and the Brightest program that the Governor’s proposal would phase out, the Clearwater Republican said that “when it comes to rewarding our teachers, everything’s on the table.”
“We’re still taking a look at it,” Latvala said, noting that he knows an experienced teacher with a Master’s who, after fifteen years of excellent evaluations, is making just $48,000 a year.
“The question will be how we arrive at the salary increase if that’s something we decide to do,” he added.
“Teachers are heroes. We have a shortage … and they haven’t had a raise in quite some time,” Latvala continued. “Anything we can do to keep rewarding teachers and keep them coming to Florida is a good thing.”
Latvala said his panel has been asked by House leaders to find about $500 million in potential cuts as part of a broader budget exercise. But that exercise also could help determine if a teacher-pay package would be viable.
“That’s something that we will find out in the coming month or two,” Latvala told reporters.
Latvala said House leaders directed budget panels to do such exercises ahead of the 2020 Legislative Session after state economists warned about a possible economic slowdown and a relatively small budget surplus next fiscal year.
Latvala said it remains unclear exactly how the Legislature would be able to pay for increasing teacher salaries and whether lawmakers would be able to bypass county school boards, which negotiate contracts with teachers.
“Ultimately, it is going to come down to finding that money and that’s what the budget exercise that we are going to be doing will look at,” he said. “If we’re going to need $500 million or $600 million or even more than that, where is that money going to come from?”
Latvala hadn’t agendaed the Governor’s ambitious pitch, but committee Democrats brought it up anyway.
Rep. Susan Valdez addressed the proposal, wondering “how this would be impacted by these local committees” and the “variance in teacher pay.”
“I’m not sure how those local counties would be impacted. I appreciate the Governor’s proposal. We’ll certainly look at that,” Latvala said.
“Our teachers should be fairly compensated,” the chair added. “Teacher compensation is going to be a continued theme.”
Valdez said that the “conversation” would be “appreciated by the teachers in Florida.”
“Since we’re there, are we talking teacher compensation or teacher salary? Are we talking first-year teachers walking in or are we talking about a pay increase for teachers across the board,” Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis asked.
Latvala’s answer: “All of the above.”
Many details remain to be hashed out, and while everyone agrees teachers deserve better pay, getting there will be a major story of the 2020 Legislative Session.
In the Senate, Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, is pushing to eliminate the bonus program because he said it has “managed to frustrate many good teachers with seemingly random outcomes” and has “made many good teachers feel less appreciated.”
Bradley filed a bill to end the program after the state agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that focused on allegations that the bonus program discriminated against black and Hispanic teachers.
Those allegations stemmed from the state’s past use of teachers’ scores on ACT and SAT college-entrance exams in helping determine whether teachers should receive bonuses. This spring, the Republican-dominated Legislature and DeSantis moved to do away with that test requirement.
Senate Education Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican, said this week that when it comes to teacher compensation “everything is on the table” — a comment echoed by Latvala. But Diaz added that if the bonus program is repealed, it would free up a lot of money that could be used somewhere else.
Florida ranked 27th in the nation for average teacher starting pay during the 2017-2018 school year at $37,636, according to the National Education Association. The national average starting salary was $39,249.
The state’s overall average teacher pay in 2017-2018 topped $48,000, but educators have long called for higher salaries as Florida has ranked near the bottom nationally.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.