By John Haughey | The Center Square
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fiscal 2021 budget includes his $900 million request to raise state starting teacher salaries to $47,500 and dramatically refashion the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program.
The Senate Education Committee has drafted a “vehicle” to incorporate the governor’s request into legislation, Senate Bill 1088, which earned its first committee approval on Jan. 13, the same day an estimated 10,000 Florida teachers demonstrated on the streets of Tallahassee.
But SB 1088 does not include DeSantis’ specific $900 million request – $600 in pay hikes and $300 million in bonus program revisions – and, according to Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, is “purposely left open” because, while there is overwhelming support for teacher raises, how much and how soon the state can approve them is uncertain.
“I believe that this is all going to depend on how much money we have, and we don’t make that decision at this committee,” Diaz told the Senate Education Committee.
Unanimously endorsed by the Education Committee, SB 1088 next goes before the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee which, as of Monday, had not scheduled its next meeting.
The bill then moves onto the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its “left open” parts will be filled in – and, likely, those numbers may not match DeSantis’ plan.
Another Senate bill, SB 106, the "Florida Teacher Fair Pay Act," sponsored by Sen. Kevin Rader, D-Palm Beach, more closely resembles DeSantis’ request. It sets starting teacher salaries at $50,000 with annual cost-of-living adjustments.
The bill, filed in August, has been assigned to the same three committees as SB 1088, filed in December, but has not had a hearing.
While Diaz said the Senate won’t wholly revise the governor’s budget request until – or if – session negotiations justify doing so, House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, has asked his panel to explore alternative legislation
After a Thursday “budget exercise,” the subcommittee endorsed a panel bill recommending $462.6 million for teacher pay raises rather than the $600 million in DeSantis’ request.
The subcommittee’s proposal is to cut $520 million from some education programs, including $284.5 million from "Best & Brightest," and “reallocate” $462.6 million for teacher pay raises.
The subcommittee’s recommendation, which has not been formalized into a titled bill as of Monday, will be forwarded to the House Appropriations Committee, which has not posted its next meeting’s date or agenda.
House Democrats, meanwhile, have offered another alternate teacher salary bill, HB 1223, filed by House Democratic Leader Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay
Under HB 1223’s three-year scenario, starting July 1, 2020, teacher salaries would be raised to $47,500 or increase by 5 percent, whichever number is greater.
By July 1, 2021, salaries would increase another 4 percent to $49,400 and, by July 1, 2022, salaries would either receive another 4 percent bump or be raised to $51,376, whichever is higher.
McGhee would also give pay increases to educational support employees, which are not included in DeSantis’ proposal. Janitorial staff, clerical workers and other non-administrative and non-instructional employees would see similar pay increases over the three years.
“Public school employees work long hours for little money because they love their calling,” McGhee said when he filed the bill. “We must do better, and this will put Florida on the right path.”
HB 1223 has been referred to the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and House Education and Appropriations committees. As of Monday, it had not been scheduled for hearings.