Teachers in Florida may get a bigger paycheck next year.
Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his proposal Wednesday to increase teacher pay across the board by $2,500 a year for every full-time classroom teacher in public schools.
"I've traveled the state. I've talked to teachers," Scott said. "They're working tirelessly to make sure our students have achievements. So I'm appreciative of what our schoolteachers do."
The $480 million proposal would still need legislative approval, and Scott says would also have to be ratified through collective bargaining at the school district level.
Parent Ryan Taggart said he's glad to hear the governor is proposing a pay raise for teachers, hoping it will help in his daughter's future education.
"I know a lot of teachers, especially in Duval County have to pay for a lot of things out of their own pocket, like crayons and paper and that kind of stuff," Taggart said. "They don't get paid enough for what they do."
The recommended raise announced at a news conference Wednesday afternoon is supported by area organizations like the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, which created a campaign to identify issues that matter most in schools.
"When you look at teacher pay in Florida, we're one of the lowest-paid states in the country when you look at average teacher salaries," said Trey Csar, of JPEF. "So if we're going to recruit, retain the best teachers in the community, in the country, we're going to have to compensate them adequately for their services."
Scott during his first year in office approved cuts to public school funding. But last year he sought a $1 billion increase but left it to local school boards to determine how much, if any, would go to pay raises.
There are about 168,000 teachers statewide.
Florida's new commissioner of education, Tony Bennett, says teachers support the move.
"I think the governor recognizes the heavy lift Florida teachers have made since he came to office, and I think he is appreciative of their efforts," Bennett said.
The praise for Scott's plan comes with some skepticism.
If passed by lawmakers, the pool of money will be doled out from the state, then sorted by each district. And there's concern when it gets to the local level, the full raise may not make it to every individual teacher.
"So after the districts get the money and it goes into the general fund, the districts could use it to pay unfunded mandates, increased security measures and things like that," Dawn Chapman, president of the St. Johns Education Association, said in a phone interview. "So by the time the money gets to the table to be negotiated, there might not be any money left."
Teachers unions like the SJEA welcome the increase but are not convinced the money will end up in the hands of teachers.
"A $2,500 increase in pay would certainly be welcome, but it's important to put it in its proper context," said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association. "Teachers and other school workers lost 3 percent of their salary in 2011 and saw another 2 percent disappear when Social Security and Medicare tax breaks expired earlier this month. But this is a step in the right direction because investing in public schools and the people who work in them is the way to create the workforce of the future."
But the governor's supporters, like Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry, believe this move could push the state in a positive direction.
"It's a start, and we have to invest in education," Curry said. "The economy is starting to turn around in Florida, unemployment is at a four-year low. You invest in education and that will help create jobs in the future."