Legislature ignores proposal to raise minimum teacher pay to $65K

The South Florida lawmakers behind the push plan to bring their bills back for next year.

Bills to give public school teachers a 37% starting pay bump got locked out of class this year.

Leadership in the Legislature ignored the proposals (SB 136, HB 13), dubbed the “Save Our Teachers Act,” which aimed to increase the base salaries of full-time classroom teachers, including preschool teachers, to $65,000 a year.

The base salary today, last increased in 2020, is $47,500. Florida ranks 16th in the nation for average teacher starting salaries and 48th among all states for average teacher pay, according to the National Education Association (NEA).

The average starting teacher salary nationally is $42,844, up 2.5% from the year prior. Public school teachers across the country on average earn $66,745 yearly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says median teacher pay is about $61,250.

The bills by Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman and West Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Tae Edmonds were among the first filed for the Legislative Session this year. They were referred to committees in October. And they never budged.

That isn’t to say they didn’t attract attention. Disclosures filed in the House show lobbyists for the Florida Association of District Superintendents, Hillsborough County Public Schools, Lake County Public Schools, the School Board of Volusia County and Foundation for Florida’s Future, an education-focused group, met with lawmakers about the legislation.

SB 136 and HB 13 included an additional apportionment from the Florida Education Finance Program to ensure that schools followed through on the bill’s provisions. School districts would have been required to develop salary distribution plans and submit them to each School Board or charter school governing body, which in turn would report on the raises to the state.

Pay negotiations between public and charter school leadership and their employees would still have been permitted, but if a district reached an impasse in collective bargaining talks, it would have had to provide the state with a written explanation and a timeline for the issue to be resolved.

Berman told Florida Politics on Friday that she and Edmonds plan to refile their legislation, which will help to train, retain and attract the best primary education professionals.

“Florida’s teachers are consistently among the bottom half in the nation in salary. As a result, we lose out on talented candidates and we face continual teacher shortages,” she said. “Florida students deserve top-notch teachers, and our teachers deserve to be properly compensated for the life-changing work they do.”

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo first referred SB 136 to the chamber’s Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, where Chair Bryan Ávila, a Miami Springs Republican, denied it consideration. Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Renner sent HB 13 first to the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, where it was similarly snubbed by Chair Josie Tomkow, a Polk City Republican.

According to the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, Florida in January had about 4,000 vacant positions for in-demand teachers and classroom aides, as well as 3,500 empty spots for support staff such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.

Teachers are struggling, Edmonds told Click Orlando in November, and they deserve more support.

“The thing I hate the most is talking to teachers and they are telling me they have two jobs,” he said. “They have two jobs, a family and you work at night. How do you have the energy and the focus to actually go into a school and teach our kids?”

Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani, one of seven Democrats who co-sponsored Edmonds’ bill, said in a Thursday interview with WUFT that the measure’s death due to neglect was unfortunate, but not unexpected.

“Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature has been on the path of privatizing education and making it harder for people to teach by creating all these new, burdensome requirements,” she said.

FEA President Andrew Spar told the outlet that while the proposed salary hikes appeared a good fix, a better one would be for the Legislature to send more funding to school districts so pay negotiations could occur locally. The organization has advocated for $2.5 billion more in annual funding to the state’s public school system for teacher raises and increased student resources.

“It’s time to return control of public schools back to the public and the local community,” he told WUFT.

Teacher pay gained extra attention Thursday night, when President Joe Biden said he planned to address the issue along with other education matters in a State of the Union address.

“To remain the strongest economy in the world,” he said, “we need the best education system in the world.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • PeterH

    March 9, 2024 at 12:19 am

    Low wages translates to more teachers leaving the classroom!

Comments are closed.


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