By John Haughey | The Center Square
A week after the state’s Board of Education approved a $22.3 billion fiscal year 2021 budget request, the state’s largest teachers union has crafted an alternate proposal that includes a 10-percent across-the-board pay hike for every public school employee in Florida.
The salary increase is part of the Focus on the Legislature’s (FEA) 10-year, $22 billion “Decade of Progress” initiative that, if implemented, would lift Florida from the bottom 10 nationally in per-student funding into the top 10.
“We are in an education crisis in this state,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said in a statement announcing the initiative. “Our children are paying the price for more than two decades of underfunding and poor policy decisions.”
Noting about 300,000 Florida students started school this year without a permanent, qualified teacher because – the FEA maintains – Florida ranks 46th in the nation in teacher salaries, Ingram added, “This situation has to change. Lawmakers must fund our future.”
The budget request approved by the Florida Board of Education (BOE) seeks to increase per-pupil spending from $7,676.87 this year to $7,763.20 in Fiscal Year 2021, an increase of about $50, or about 1.12 percent.
FEA’s proposal calls for an additional $2.4 billion in fiscal 2021 to increase per-student spending by $767, with $614 going to the base student allocation (BSA), raising it to $8,377.20 per pupil.
That $2.4 billion boost would finance an across-the-board pay increase of 10 percent for every public school employee in Florida, improving districts’ ability to recruit and retain teachers and staff, the FEA states.
The additional money would also allow school districts to invest in music, art and physical education programs, and to hire school counselors, psychologists and social workers, the association said.
The FEA, which represents about 140,000 former and current educators, insists Floridians have demonstrated they are willing to invest more in education, noting voters have approved referendums across the state to boost funding for local schools.
Among examples cited: Hillsborough County, where residents endorsed a half-percent sales tax proposal last November even though it would raise the sales tax to 8.5 percent, the highest in the state.
The budget request approved by the BOE last week, which will be submitted to lawmakers when they begin preliminary 2020 session committee meetings in September, seeks nearly $420 million more in overall funding above this year’s $21.86 billion state education budget.
While the BOE budget request makes nearly $160 million potentially “available” for teacher pay hikes, the FEA said it is not enough to make up for “a decade of underfunding.”
The budget request “makes no effort — zero — to address the fact that education funding in Florida has failed to recur from the Great Recession,” the association said.
Ingram says despite a boost in education spending in this year’s budget and the proposed $420 million increase in next year’s budget request, when inflation and other costs are factored in, the state’s education funding remains below 2008 funding.
“It’s not getting our schools back to where they need to be because we’ve had a decade of underfunding," he said.
State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said last week that increasing teacher pay is a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis and would be addressed by lawmakers during the 2020 session, which begins on Jan. 14.
In a July interview on WPLG TV, DeSantis said “the single biggest factor on whether students are going to succeed is the quality of the teacher,” adding “the starting salary probably needs to go up and the state should help with that.”
He said he would present a package with teacher pay increases before the Legislature convenes.