MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – Standing in front of a podium at Middleburg High School on Monday morning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rolled out a plan that would increase the minimum starting salary for teachers across the state.
DeSantis said his proposed 2020 budget recommendation will include asking to increase the minimum starting salary for teachers to $47,500. The pay raise would affect more than 101,000 teachers in the state and cost around $600 million.
“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 you can do,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said around 11,000 teachers in the Jacksonville area would see an increase in salary under the proposal. Currently, in Clay County, the starting salary for teachers is under $39,000. Currently, Baker County teachers start at $36,250, Duval teachers start at $39,500 and St. Johns County teachers start at $38,000.
“We are experiencing a teacher shortage in Florida,” DeSantis said. “With a strong economy and plenty of jobs available in other fields, unfortunately too many college graduates are unwilling to enter the teaching profession. My proposal to increase the minimum salary for teachers to $47,500 will help alleviate this shortage and elevate the teaching profession to the level of appreciation it deserves. This is long overdue, and I look forward to working with the legislature to make this a reality.”
Avg. Teacher Pay Northeast Florida Counties, 2018-19
According to the National Education Association, Florida ranks 26th in the nation for starting teacher pay at $37,636. If enacted, the raise would rank Florida 2nd in the nation for starting teacher pay, DeSantis said.
When asked later at an appearance at a Broward County school why he opted to raise the minimum salary and not overall average salaries for educators, DeSantis said the plan would affect “60 percent of teachers" and have the most impact.
The Florida Education Association statewide teachers union issued a news release saying it was “encouraged to hear Gov. Ron DeSantis make clear that teacher pay matters to his administration.” But it also raised questions about how the plan would be funded and what it would do to help retain longstanding teachers.
“We thank the governor for opening a dialogue on salaries and for acknowledging that our teachers are woefully underpaid,” union President Fedrick Ingram said in a prepared statement. “Raising minimum starting pay is a beginning. We still hope to hear about what Gov. DeSantis plans to do to retain experienced teachers who have devoted years to their students, and about how his administration will provide fair, competitive pay for all the people essential to our schools --- bus drivers, paraprofessionals, food-service workers, office staff, custodial personnel and others.”
St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson told News4Jax on Monday the proposal is exciting.
"You have to have that bold statement that bold commitment to try to support them and the profession and ultimately what we are doing is supporting children," Forson said. "Many teachers they don’t really stop at 7.5 or 8 hours a day. They will grade papers in the evening or working on a presentation for the next day."
But, Forson said, there are still plenty of questions about how the raise would be implemented.
"Certainly there are a lot of details to that, how do you get there or where does the money come from," Forson said.
Lawmakers will consider the potentially popular plan as dozens of them run for re-election in 2020. But the plan also comes as state economists have warned about a possible economic slowdown and a relatively small budget surplus next fiscal year.
DeSantis said his proposal will fit “neatly” within a budget proposal he will release before the session. When asked how it would be funded, DeSantis said “there is enough general revenue funding” to pay for the initiative.
“I am happy that this is something that is not pie in the sky. This is achievable, so we have to get this done,” he added.
News Service of Florida contributed to this report.