Gov. Ron DeSantis requested lawmakers approve $1,000 bonus checks for teachers with the latest round of federal funding, but budget leaders in charge of education funding pushed back on the need for bonuses and federal aid.
The latest budget offer from the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee doesn’t include the Governor’s request because lawmakers are saving American Rescue Plan funding considerations for the next phase of budget talks. However, Chair Randy Fine on Sunday appeared to suggest the bonuses were unnecessary with the $500 million in pay raises the Legislature put forward last year and the additional $50 million DeSantis and the House proposed for the coming fiscal year.
“We just thought there were other things that could be done with that money other than giving teachers bonuses,” Fine said.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls‘ office clarified Fine’s comments after the meeting. A spokesperson for the Speaker’s office said Fine was referring to the distinction between general revenue and federal relief and that bonus checks will be a part of final talks.
Yet Fine’s Senate counterpart, Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Doug Broxson, pushed back on the need for federal relief altogether.
“These stimulus dollars were not designed for Florida. We’re real close to being in budget. Other states aren’t,” Broxson said. “But we’re going to look over and see if that money can be used in an appropriate way where it’s non recurring so we get back to running Florida and let the other states run it the way they want to.”
Fine has repeatedly railed against the American Rescue Plan, calling it “supposed COVID relief.” On Sunday, he added that it’s “all borrowed from our kids.”
When asked about the bonus checks, Broxson focused the conversation on what the House and Senate have considered so far.
“Well, I think we’ve already established that last year in the $500 million we set aside,” Broxson said. “The question is really $50 million and we’ll talk about that later.”
Sunday marks the second day of negotiations since the budget conference kicked off Friday evening.
DeSantis announced the teacher bonuses for working through the COVID-19 pandemic as one of his priorities last month after President Joe Biden signed off on the American Rescue Plan, expected to send more than $10 billion in relief funds to the state coffers. However, the House and Senate didn’t announce specifics on how they plan to use those relief funds when they unveiled their budget proposals earlier this month and still haven’t fully.
Fine will be one of 33 representatives in the final round of budget debates, when lawmakers will hammer out how to use the federal relief funds. Broxson isn’t on the team of nine senators who will be directly involved in those talks.
Top House budget leader Jay Trumbull said Friday that lawmakers would consider teacher bonuses and first responders bonuses.
“The Governor just came out with that not too recently and (it is) not something that was contemplated in either of our budgets as we rolled them out, especially dealing with December’s general revenue conference numbers,” Trumbull said. “That’s obvious that’ll be something that we focus on as we look at it in conference.”
Last year, the Governor signed a plan to raise the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 annually, which cost the state $500 million. The plan to continue those raises would cost $50 million for the coming fiscal year.
DeSantis first proposed the plan months before COVID-19 hit the state, but the pandemic helped justify the pay raise. Yet when Fine shut down the pandemic bonuses, he noted the prior and coming pay raises.
“We obviously do not set — local politicians get to decide what teachers get paid, and there’s plenty of money now for them to make those decisions,” Fine said.
The bonus checks would cost the state $216 million from the anticipated $10.2 billion in federal relief.