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Florida teachers among worst paid in US even with budget surplus

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In a Florida political season dominated by education headlines and arguments over everything from policy to sexual orientation and curriculum, Florida’s teacher’s union, the Florida Education Association, says state teachers are still near the bottom of the barrel for salaries. It comes as the governor and state lawmakers continue to promise higher salaries.

Much attention to the state’s budget surplus has been made by Gov. Ron DeSantis, praising state policies for boosting the local economy, while criticizing federal officials for “printing trillions and trillions of dollars” and contributing to inflation.

The state currently has a reported surplus of $20 billion in its budget, and the governor is still reviewing the coming fiscal year’s appropriations. One item that has remained a stated priority for the state’s leaders has been increasing teacher salaries.

Since 2020, the state of Florida has devoted roughly $2 billion to raising teacher salaries to a promised $47,500. In the most recent fiscal year budget, still being reviewed by DeSantis, another $800 million was inked out to make the raises happen.

It’s a campaign promise that has yet to be fully delivered since before DeSantis took office.

The latest salary information from the Florida Department of Education showed that 31 of the state’s 67 county school districts’ average salaries have still not risen to the promised $47,500. As they’ve done in the past, Florida’s teachers’ union is advocating for better incentives for teachers to address what’s become a shortage of educators.

“We all want our students to get a high-quality education, and we know it takes qualified teachers and staff to make that happen. Florida has a severe shortage of educators, due in large part to low pay,” FEA President Andrew Spar said in a statement. “We’re in a double bind in Florida. Even when increases are funded, Tallahassee has tied districts’ hands with more than 20 laws affecting pay. The upshot is that while salaries improve for new teachers, experienced educators are left behind. Improving pay for all career levels would help keep experienced professional teachers in front of our students and attract new people to the field.”

FEA said, “Florida’s average teacher salary for 2020-2021 was 10.26% less than in 2012-2013,” in real dollars, or how much money the teachers actually take home after taxes and benefits. Compared to nearby neighbors salaries are higher elsewhere. In terms of pay, the two states that border Florida, Georgia ($60,553) and Alabama ($54,271) rank 21st and 35th, respectively.

In some ways, the efforts to raise teacher salaries in Florida haven’t completely failed. Teachers make $44,040 on average for starting salaries, fresh into the field according to the National Education Association, a U.S. national teachers’ union’s data, putting Florida at No. 16. However, average salary ranks drop to 48 when it comes to average salary overall, at $51,009.

“In 2020, Florida enacted a plan to increase the starting salary for teachers to $47,500 over a period of years. As a result, Florida saw its ranking in starting teacher pay improve from 30th to 16th among the 50 states and D.C.,” the NEA said in a statement shared by the FEA. “However, the new Florida law did little to help experienced teachers and will leave them behind for years to come; and Florida’s average teacher salary improved by only one spot, from 49 to 48, in the state rankings.”

Only West Virginia, South Dakota and Mississippi have a lower average salary ranking, at No. 49, No. 50, and No. 51, in order.

While legislation has invested in Florida’s education, the dollars promised by lawmakers and leaders across the state have not fully arrived. Not only has Florida not met its goal of having all teachers make an average of $47,500 per year, the state ranks low on what it invests in its students. The NEA said Florida ranks 44th for average per-student spending at $10,703 per student, the ranking for Florida has not changed since 2019.

As the budget is still being reviewed, specific places to move or add funding have not been finalized.

When asked by 8 On Your Side, state officials from the Florida Senate said the appropriations bill currently under review by the governor requires “each school district must pay each employee at least $15.00 per hour by October 1, 2022.”

Further, officials said, “Fifty percent of the $250,000,000 provided in Specific Appropriations 5 and 86 for the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation is provided for school districts to increase the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers as defined in section 1012.01(2)(a), Florida Statutes, plus certified prekindergarten teachers funded in the Florida Education Finance Program, but not including substitute teachers, to at least $47,500, or to the maximum amount achievable based on the school district’s allocation.”

The governor and state lawmakers have made promises to not only increase teacher salaries, but the salaries for the state’s law enforcement, couched in rhetoric about supporting police and encouraging them to move to Florida from other states where they face opposition and “mistreatment,” according to DeSantis.

The law signed to do so, House Bill 3, is supposed to raise the base salaries of every state sheriff by $5,000, give out-of-state law enforcement recruits a $5,000 signing bonus. According to legislature analysis of HB 3’s effect, officers and deputies will not receive raises, though additional benefits for different officer-specific programs are available.

Senate staff responding to 8 On Your Side’s request about budgeting and salary increases for educators and law enforcement said “beginning July 1, all state law enforcement would receive a 5.38% inflation pay raise. The minimum salary would increase to $50,000, or an additional 5% pay increase, whichever is greater.”

With the budget still under review, and Florida having a line-item veto option for modification or removal, it is unclear if the deadlines named to provide teachers and law enforcement officers with raises will hold. At this stage, it’s up to the governor.

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