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Governor’s Plan to Hike Starting Teacher Pay Would Lift Florida to Near Top of Rankings

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 07, 2019 3 min read
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Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed to significantly increase the starting salary for the state’s teachers, a move he says would attract better teachers to the state and increase student achievement.

DeSantis, a Republican, announced his teacher pay raise plan Monday at a Florida high school. He also cast it as a way to address teacher shortages (more on that below) and “elevate the teaching profession to the level of appreciation it deserves.”

“If you look at ways you can make an impact in students’ achievement ... having [a] great teacher in front of the students is really the best thing that you can do,” DeSantis said during his visit to the school, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In a Monday tweet, DeSantis put the price tag for his proposal, which will require legislative approval, at $600 million:

Let’s dig into the numbers: The National Education Association data DeSantis appears to have cited deals with average starting salaries, not the minimum starting salary the governor is talking about. So it’s not strictly an apples-to-apples comparison. However, if DeSantis’ plan becomes reality, it’s entirely feasible that the average starting salary in Florida would be higher than the $47,500 floor, and could be significantly higher in some districts.

As of 2017-18, only New Jersey had a higher average starting salary than what DeSantis has proposed for Florida’s minimum. For that year, the Garden State had an average starting salary of $51,443. The District of Columbia, however, had the top spot in the rankings put out by the NEA, with an average starting salary of $55,209. In addition, the Federal Education Association, which represents teachers in Department of Defense schools, has an average starting salary of $50,468. The national teachers’ union put the average starting salary nationwide for 2017-18 at $39,249.

As we reported in April in a story about the NEA data, Florida ranked as the fourth-lowest state for average teacher salaries, both in terms of the estimate for its 2018-19 and for 2017-18. Its estimated annual salary for 2018-19 of $48,395 ranked above only New Mexico, West Virginia, and Mississippi. The average teacher salary in the U.S. for 2017-18 was $60,477, an increase over the previous year.

The Florida Education Association said it welcomed DeSantis’ announcement, but cast it as small beer compared to the massive infusion of funding the union says the state’s schools need:

Speaking to the Tampa Bay Times, one local union leader also questioned whether DeSantis’ plan could lead to new teachers making a higher salary than those who’ve been in the profession for years.

About that teacher shortage DeSantis mentioned: The Florida Department of Education recently released the list of subject areas where there is a “critical” shortage of teachers in the state. These “represent certification areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach such courses,” according to the department. The subject areas that meet this criterion:

  • Science-General
  • English
  • Mathematics
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Science-Physical
  • Reading
  • Technical Education
  • Exceptional Student Education (ESE)

Photo: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, signs a bill during a signing ceremony at the William J. Kirlew Junior Academy, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla.