The Senate’s first offer to the House on education funding could make school districts take a big hit on pensions.
While the House on Saturday recommended $500 million for teacher pay raises, which was what the Senate originally proposed. Senate leaders instead countered with offering $600 million for wage increases.
The House initially proposed $650 million for teacher salary increases but indicated during negotiations Saturday that it would accept the Senate’s $500 million proposal.
Senate Education Committee Chair Kelli Stargel says they raised it in their offer to help meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ goal of raising starting teacher salaries to $47,500. DeSantis’ request was $602 million.
DeSantis also asked legislators to set aside $300 million for a new teacher and principal bonus program that would replace the embattled “Best and Brightest” bonus program. The House and Senate have rejected DeSantis’ proposed funding for a bonus program.
The Senate offer came along with a drop in its base student allocation increase from $40 per student to $18. The House is pushing for it to increase by $50.
School districts are hoping to use the BSAs to help pay the increase in pension obligations they will need to contribute if DeSantis signs HB 5007, which the legislature passed earlier this year. It changes how much state employees must contribute to the pension system. It could end up costing school districts nearly $233 million statewide.
If lawmakers increase the per-student funding, which is the top source of funding for school districts, that could help offset the cost of the pension legislation.
Stargel says she believes there’s still enough in the BSA for districts to cover their pension obligations.
“Realistically, the majority of the BSA a lot of times is going to teacher salaries so it’s not a huge departure from what they’re already doing,” she said.
Stargel says they haven’t yet decided how the money will be distributed. They need to decide how to define “classroom staff” and if the funding will also go to other school staff like guidance counselors and cafeteria workers.
The number for teacher pay could very change again before 1 p.m. Monday. That’s when all of the unresolved issues at the sub-committee level are bumped up to Appropriations Chairmen Travis Cummings in the House and Rob Bradley in the Senate.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.