Funding for Education Top Priority on Governor DeSantis’ To-Do List

Photo Credit: of Governor Ron DeSantis.

Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a record $91.4 billion state budget on Monday, November 16th. This would be the new state budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The governor’s budget also includes spending an additional $1 billion on teacher raises.

The proposed budget is money that would mostly go toward pay increases for teachers and serve as a way to attract more teachers to the state. Florida is currently dealing with a teacher shortage. In the western Panhandle, teacher employment is at an all-time low. Contrary, Santa Rosa Beach is almost at full capacity with only four openings available. 

Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas states they are actively seeking to hire 14 teachers. In Okaloosa County, a similar situation is happening with about 40 positions waiting to be filled.

A $25 million increase for school security and safety grants are being recommended along with no tuition hike for Florida’s colleges and universities.

After dubbing the coming fiscal year the “Year of the Teacher,” DeSantis has made two major teacher-compensation packages the centerpieces of his education spending plan for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. DeSantis’ goal is to raise the minimum salary for all classroom teachers to $47,500. 

An intent to create a new bonus program for teachers and principals was also announced the same week of November16th. Many unions are against these bonus programs, saying they are nothing but “schemes.”

The budget released in November provided new details about how the money would be distributed, a major question considering past efforts by former Governor Rick Scott were stymied at the local level. According to state law, any change in teacher pay must first go through the teacher’s unions so teacher salaries may be negotiated.

DeSantis budget would be set up in a way for it to hold the money for nothing except the raises and bonuses into a specific per-student funding mechanism with explicit instructions on how it should be spent. 

“Of course, as many of you know, education has been probably our top issue that we have been talking about in the last couple of months,” DeSantis told reporters that Monday, when he unveiled the budget proposal.

The proposal came out as a first step for when lawmakers prepare to negotiate the 2020-2021 budget during the legislative session that starts Jan. 14.

The universal pre-K program in Florida for 4-year-olds is part of the governor’s plan to give a small increase in per-student funding, from $2,437 to $2,486. The amount is still below the $2,500 that was handed out when the program was first created in 2002.

DeSantis’ new program would provide funds to Title 1 schools, which cater to meet the educational needs of students living in poverty-stricken areas. Students with disabilities would also be getting benefits with a program that provides voucher-like scholarships.

Governor DeSantis is calling for money to put into more mental health programs at schools. He wants to provide $100 million to schools. That amount is a $25 million increase from the current year’s amount. These funds would be used to provide much-needed help for more service providers, according to the proposed budget.