Solving Florida's teacher shortage: Bonuses or pay raise?

Photo does not have a caption

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to overhaul the state’s "Best and Brightest" teacher bonus program by nearly doubling its funding and changing how teachers qualify, but the state’s largest teachers union says expanding incentives won’t solve the state’s teacher shortage.

Florida needs to hire 2,200 teachers.

DeSantis hopes overhauling the state’s "Best and Brightest" program could help fill the gap.

The "Best and Brightest" program was originally passed in 2015. It was supported by then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who now heads the Department of Education.

Andrea Messina, with the Florida School Boards Associations, says one major issue with the program in its current form is that it uses college entrance exam scores to determine whether a teacher qualifies for a bonus.

“You know test results don't necessarily reflect effectiveness in the classroom," said Messina.

DeSantis wants to do away with that practice.

“To me, that didn't make sense. You're already in a professional setting," said DeSantis.

DeSantis wants to nearly double the overall funding for the bonus program, from $234 million to $423 million.

As many as 45,000 teachers in the state could receive $9,000 bonuses under DeSantis’ proposal. But the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, says bonuses aren’t the answer.

“To insist that these merit pay schemes or bonus schemes are going to do something to attract and retain teachers is a fallacy," said Union President Fedrick Ingram.

With a median salary of $48,000 a year, Florida ranks 45th in the nation for teacher pay.

Instead, Ingram says, a pay raise would be a better use of the funds.

“A bonus package does nothing to impact teachers being paid 45th in the nation and we know that and the governor knows that," said Ingram.

Now, it falls on the Legislature to make DeSantis’ proposal a reality, though no bills have been filed to make the change so far.