DeSantis touts open schools, $1K bonus for teachers, principals in Baker County visit

Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Baker County Middle School on Wednesday. (WJXT)

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday highlighted a $1,000 bonus for public school principals and full-time classroom teachers during a visit to Baker County Middle School.

The proposal was approved by the State Legislature and DeSantis said he will sign it into law as part of this year’s budget.

The governor said about 174,000 teachers and principals in school districts and public charter schools statewide are expected to receive the one-time checks. According to his proposal, the bonuses would be funded by $216 million from the third round of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), funds that were passed by Congress in response to the pandemic.

The bonuses will come on top of $550 million that lawmakers included in the budget to continue a plan to raise average minimum salaries for teachers.

DeSantis said the bonus plan was a way to reward educators in grades Pre-K through 12 who were part of a historic and challenging school year and “overwhelmingly wanted to get back, wanted to give the kids the ability to learn face-to-face because they understood how important it was.”

Holding up Baker County’s school district as an example, DeSantis again touted the state’s effort to reopen both businesses and schools as quickly as possible amid the ongoing pandemic.

He said 94% of students in Baker County returned for in-person learning on Day 1 last August.

“This is the last day of school in Baker County -- 180 days face-to-face. They’ve done it. They did basically a normal school year, and it was successful,” DeSantis said. “You’re going to see lasting damage in other parts of the country for people who didn’t do the right thing.”

Education Commission Richard Corcoran said schools provided a key piece of normalcy for many students during an otherwise chaotic year.

“So giving another bonus to these teachers, it’s not just well-deserved, they are the backbone of our society -- and our principals,” Corcoran said. “We can’t thank them enough.”

DeSantis said Wednesday he is continuing to review parts of a record $101.5 billion budget proposal as he prepares to sign it before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

“We’re going to be signing that budget, hopefully within the next couple weeks. There’s just a lot of provisions we have to go through. We’re working on it,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who has not formally received the budget from lawmakers, has line-item veto power.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.