Joe Henderson: Slashing teacher pay raises is a last resort, but it might be the only resort
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teacher pay
I’m afraid public-school teachers won’t like the outcome.

Florida’s new budget must be in place by July 1. Before then, Gov. Ron DeSantis will make some of the toughest budget decisions of his administration. With the state expecting up to a $10 billion shortfall in tax revenue, DeSantis must trim the $93.2 billion budget approved in March accordingly.

And if he does what seems unavoidable, I’m afraid public-school teachers won’t like the outcome.

After successfully pushing an ambitious program to raise the minimum starting pay for teachers, DeSantis may have no choice but to redline it. There isn’t enough money to go around.

DeSantis hasn’t said much about the Hobson’s choices in front of him, but anyone with a calculator can see where this is headed.

Florida’s current teacher pay ranks 46th in the country. Under DeSantis’ plan, only New Jersey and Washington, D.C., would have higher average salaries. But, where’s the money now to pay for that?

COVID-19 is a catastrophe for a state heavily dependent on tourists and the money they spend. Sales tax revenue, according to the Florida Policy Institute, funds 79% of the state budget.

With a Titanic-sized hole in the tax collections, there likely is no logical path now to increase base salaries for classroom teachers and pre-kindergarten teachers to $47,500.

About 100,000 teachers would receive raises under the plan.

But now? If there’s no money, there’s no money.

Unless the Governor can work some budgetary magic, the raises will have to wait.

I wouldn’t blame any teacher for throwing a hissy fit at that thought. They’re facing a new school year that will be chaotic at best. Some districts are talking about staggered schedules to cut down on classroom sizes, but that just means the teachers will have to juggle their time even more.

There also are health concerns, and probably continued distance learning. Kids and parents will flout the safety rules and blame teachers and administrators if their kids get sick.

It’s all going to fall on the teachers to make his Rubik’s Cube work.

I believe DeSantis will eliminate their raises only as the last, last, last, resort. But that may be the only resort he has.

Teachers have gotten screwed so badly over the 20 years of Republican rule in this state that eliminating these raises, even in a pandemic, might make them grab pitchforks and flaming torches.

There is a caveat in all this. DeSantis is a politician and the teacher raises are important to him. He could slash some environmental initiatives, but those are important to him, too. They’re also important to a large majority of people in Florida.

So, where else can he look?

Maybe some affordable housing programs could be curtailed, but that creates more problems as people can’t pay the rent. State Medicaid costs will spike by at least $1 billion because of all the job losses. So, no, can’t cut there.

School districts throughout Florida are planning for steep cuts in what they receive from Tallahassee. That will delay much-needed construction and maintenance. Compliance with COVID-related safety requirements will strain budgets more.

Nickels will be squeezed until they scream.

There is a bad moon rising and decisions once believed unthinkable must be made.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


6 comments

  • Over it

    June 10, 2020 at 8:00 am

    I understand the concern for teachers; however, in our county teaches have received raises every year but not any other school employees. “Florida’s current teacher pay ranks 46th in the country.” Meanwhile state employees have had a 3% pay cut, reduced benefits and have not had a pay raise in 12 years and Florida is rated and has been rated 50th in the country for costs per capita in a state that is now the 3rd most populated state in the country. A good portion of the government workforce qualifies for food stamps, especially if they are a single parent household. The government hires people at $25-28,000/year. No tears left for the teachers and their pay. How about we stop the private schools within the public schools and give teachers the facilities and resources to make their lives in the classrooms easier. That would help.

    • Cynic

      June 10, 2020 at 8:45 am

      As government and academia deficits explode and the more liberal workforces finally feel the sting the rest of us have, you’ll suddenly see the push for lockdowns dissipate.

  • Feed UP

    June 10, 2020 at 10:47 am

    Teachers took a 3% pay cut beginning in 2011. For years, teachers did not receive a pay raise at all. The last 5 years of my employment as a teacher saw no raise as well as the school related personnel. Teachers have to supplement classroom supplies with their own money inn order to have what their students need. More and more responsibilities are heaped upon teachers with no compensation. Need to teach online? Need to be available for students and parents? That is 24/7. Pay your own internet bills to do your job. Many teachers receive food stamps. Public schools see their already dwindling dollars go to charter schools with absolutely NO accountability. Want to cut education? Look to the charter schools first. Want to slash the budget? Stop tax giveaways to large corporations. Cut the pay of officials in state government. Education always shoulders the burdens of the state.

  • Artie Leichner

    June 10, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    The answer is simple. The governor needs to support the bill that was put together by the House. There are provisions for money for State government to replace taxes.He is the governor for the whole state.

  • Enrique

    June 10, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    You forgot to tell us that the first bill DeSantis signed was a $535 millions in tax cuts for the corporations. You also omitted collecting the internet sales taxes on purchases. How about the $10 billions in tax loopholes for the Corporations?

    • Nick

      June 11, 2020 at 12:42 pm

      Please do not miss this point. The very first bill signed was for a $533 million dollar refund to corporations. The reasoning given was that companies had likely budgeted for this anticipated refund. The short term wants of a few are deemed more important than the long term investment in education – if the Gov. does indeed veto raises.

      Florida students have not done well under the distance learning model. So, How will school districts compensate for the “knowledge gap” resulting from the closure of schools? With a labor supply shortage of qualified teachers -too many students will be return to classrooms filled with non-certified teachers.

      It is likely that the corporations given tax relief will recover from the burdens of this virus when the medical community supplies a vaccine. Relief for Florida’s current students will be delayed much longer. Maybe in the next legislative session teaching wages can be fixed so that the labor supply meets demand? That’s a two year window at best.

      The very first bill signed was for a $533 million dollar refund to corporations.

Comments are closed.


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