Florida teachers union disappointed with rollout of bonuses

(News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Roughly 175,000 Florida teachers and 3,600 principals can soon expect $1,000 bonuses in their mailboxes.

Those bonuses are part of a $200 million investment sought by Gov. Ron DeSantis and passed by the Legislature this year.

But those bonuses are coming under criticism from Florida’s largest teachers union, which contends that not everyone who worked to keep Florida’s public schools up and running through the pandemic are eligible for bonus pay.

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, said he knows that teachers and administrators who receive a $1,000 bonus will appreciate the help.

“The devil’s in the details,” Spar said.

The union argues the 120,000-130,000 other school staff members throughout the state should have been included in the Legislature’s “thank you” package.

“If this was truly genuine, first of all the money would have been given to all who work in our schools,” Spar said.

The FEA is also critical of the decision to send paper checks, which it says is to blame for a delay in the bonus rollout.

“They could have just sent that money to districts and gotten it out immediately,” Spar said.

State. Rep. Randy Fine, who chairs the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, didn’t mince words when he was asked what he thought of the union’s criticism.

“This makes me think real long and hard about whether we want to do anything like this ever again,” Fine said.

FEA also suggested that while the bonuses might be a nice gesture, addressing overall teacher pay would have been a better way to show appreciation for the state’s educators and school staff.

Florida ranks No. 48 in the nation for average teacher salaries. Yet the state has invested over $1 billion over the past two years to increase teachers’ starting salaries.

Fine said the bonuses given to educators this year didn’t have to happen.

“This was our effort to do something nice for teachers,” Fine said. “If they’re not going to appreciate it, we can spend the couple hundred million dollars differently next year.”

The union is also concerned that teachers who retired or quit prior to June 1 might not be eligible for the bonuses, even if they worked through the pandemic.

A reporter who reached out to the Governor’s Office for clarification on bonus eligibility was directed instead to the Department of Education, which is in charge of distributing the checks.

A spokesperson for DeSantis issued the following statement:

“Governor DeSantis has fought to provide much needed relief and appreciation to our teachers, principals and first responders. It is disappointing that a union would try to politicize this matter in the media.”