TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Wednesday to raise the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 and provide other raises at a cost of $500 million despite state revenue plummeting because of the coronavirus.
The raise is about $10,000 more than base pay in the 2017-18 school year when teachers were starting at just over $37,600.
“We wanted to take Florida from No. 26 in the nation for average minimum teacher salary to the top five, and to do that, that obviously required policy. It also required a lot of financial commitment. It was not something that a lot of people thought necessarily could get done,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in a Miami-Dade County school.
Raising teacher salaries was a top priority for DeSantis during the legislative session that ended with a budget being approved in mid-March — just as the state was shutting down because of the pandemic. Florida has no income tax and relies heavily on tourism and its sales tax for revenue, and has been hit hard by a drop in visitors.
“We’ve had a little bit of changes in everything happening in our world since then, so it was quite a challenge to make sure that even though we fought for it, that we’d be able to actually do it in the budget,” DeSantis said. “(It’s) a different fiscal picture than what we were dealing with in January, February and early March.”
Lawmakers approved $500 million toward teacher pay raises — $400 million to boost the minimum teacher salary and $100 million for other pay raises. The money was less than the $900 million that DeSantis requested when he proclaimed last fall that it would be the “Year of the Teacher.”
DeSantis said other budget items he supports will be chopped when he finally signs the budget that goes into effect July 1. The governor is able to veto specific line items in the $92 billion spending plan approved by lawmakers.
“Although we have not made every decision about the budget, this will be there 100 percent. We’re going to have to make tough choices, but this is important,” DeSantis said.
The signing elicited praise from the Florida Education Association — the teachers union that more often clashes with Republican leadership.
“This $500 million investment in Florida’s teachers is especially meaningful given the current circumstances. It speaks to the deep value of public education to our state’s future,” said union President Fedrick Ingram in a news release. “We’ve all heard the reports that many issues, including some of the governor’s priorities, are on the chopping block for vetoes. The decision to leave this investment for Florida’s schools intact is an acknowledgement of the hard work our members do each and every day for Florida’s students.”
DeSantis was surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers when he signed the bill. He said his hope is that it will help the state recruit teachers.
“Obviously, you’re not going to get rich doing it, just like police officers don’t get rich,” DeSantis said. “You do it because you have a servant’s heart, but it sure makes it easier if you have a good minimum salary and are able to make ends meet.”
Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, the budget chief for his chamber, said people questioned whether DeSantis would be able to keep his promise.
“People said, after COVID, this shouldn’t happen. Should we even do this anymore? But today, it’s happening. Promise made, promise kept. The year of the teacher is a reality,” he said at the DeSantis bill signing.
News4Jax anchor and reporter Scott Johnson contributed to this report.