Gov. DeSantis announces $1.25 billion funding increase for teacher pay

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a record funding increase for teacher wages Monday, as teachers’ unions accused the governor and state leaders of not doing enough to support public education.

DeSantis approved a $1.25 billion increase for educator salaries in the state budget, which he called "historic," while touting a $4 billion total investment in teacher pay raises since 2019 after he took office.

"Since 2019 to the present, we've had by far the biggest increase in teacher compensation that has ever happened in the history of the State of Florida," DeSantis said during a news conference from Hialeah on Monday morning.

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For the 2023–2024 school year, Florida’s average starting teacher pay is over $48,000, and the average teacher salary exceeds $54,000, both of which would likely go up following the funding increase. Much of the salary bumps during the last five years have been dedicated to beginning teachers.

The governor and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, meanwhile, also hit teachers’ unions hard, accusing them of holding up wage increases with lengthy negotiations.

"I think the unions need to get out of the way," Diaz said. "They need to do a better job of getting these dollars into the pocketbooks of teachers and not waiting for money that was appropriated and effective in July to be in teacher's pocketbooks in May. That's absolutely ridiculous."

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The Florida Education Association, however, fired back with a news conference of its own, featuring students, teachers and union presidents who accused the governor of trying to distract from persistent public education problems caused by state leaders.

The FEA points to a recent report that ranked Florida 50th in the U.S. in overall teacher pay and a continued teacher shortage that FEA President Andrew Spar said is the worst in the country. The state disputes the report and has called the ranking a lie.

"We have called on the legislature to invest $2.5 billion a year for the next seven years, into our public schools, moving us from the bottom in the nation to top ten in the nation in funding for our schools, so that we can pay teachers and staff adequately, so that we can make sure that every student gets the education they deserve," Said Andrew Spar, President of the FEA, adding unions continue to be the best way for teachers to get fair pay.

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"The facts are that Florida faces the worst teacher shortage we've ever faced, leading the nation in the teacher and staff shortages we have right now here in the state of Florida," Spar said. "What this governor's trying to do is say to teachers, 'just sit down and shut up and take what we give you.' And that's not acceptable."

This is the latest in a public battle between teachers’ unions, the governor and his supporters, which heated up last year when state lawmakers banned unions from drafting dues straight out of teachers' paychecks. The law also requires unions to have at least 60 percent of local teachers registered as member to have their organizations re-certified by the state.

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