Regardless of recent budget surplus, Florida teachers are among the worst paid in the U.S.

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TAMPA. Fl. — In a Florida political season dominated by educational arguments over everything from sexual orientation to policy and curriculum, Florida’s teacher’s union, the Florida Education Association, says teachers in the Sunshine State are still close to the bottom of the barrel for salaries. The news comes as Governor Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers continue to promise higher pay.

Attention to Florida’s budget surplus has been made by Gov. Ron DeSantis, praising state policies for boosting the local economy, while giving hard criticism to federal officials for “printing trillions and trillions of dollars and contributing to inflation.”

Florida currently has a reported surplus of $20 billion in its budget, and the governor is continuing to review the coming fiscal year’s appropriations. One item that has remained a major priority for state leaders has been teacher salaries.

Since 2020, the state has devoted approximately $2 billion to increasing teacher salaries to a promised $47,500. In the most recent fiscal year budget, which is still being reviewed by the Governor, another $800 million was written in to make the raises happen.

The Florida Department of Education’s latest salary information showed that 31 of the state’s 67 county school districts’ average salaries have not reached the promised $47,500. As done in the past, Florida’s teachers’ union is pushing for better incentives for teachers to address what has become a major shortage of educators.

“We all want our students to get a high-quality education, and we know it takes qualified teachers and staff to make that happen. Florida has a severe shortage of educators, due in large part to low pay,” FEA President Andrew Spar said in a statement. “We’re in a double bind in Florida. Even when increases are funded, Tallahassee has tied districts’ hands with more than 20 laws affecting pay. The upshot is that while salaries improve for new teachers, experienced educators are left behind. Improving pay for all career levels would help keep experienced professional teachers in front of our students and attract new people to the field.”

FEA said, “Florida’s average teacher salary for 2020-2021 was 10.26% less than in 2012-2013,” in actual dollars, or how much money these educators actually take home after benefits and taxes. Nearby neighbors’ salaries are much higher elsewhere. In terms of pay, the two states that border Florida, Alabama ($54,271) and Georgia ($60,553) rank 35th and 21st, respectively.

In some ways, the efforts to raise educators’ salaries have not failed completely. According to the National Education Association, a U.S. national teachers’ union database, teachers make approximately $44,040 on average as a starting salary. This puts Florida at No. 16. However, the average salary rank drops to 48 when it comes to average salary overall, at $51,009.

“In 2020, Florida enacted a plan to increase the starting salary for teachers to $47,500 over a period of years. As a result, Florida saw its ranking in starting teacher pay improve from 30th to 16th among the 50 states and D.C.,” the NEA said in a statement shared by the FEA. “However, the new Florida law did little to help experienced teachers and will leave them behind for years to come; and Florida’s average teacher salary improved by only one spot, from 49 to 48, in the state rankings.”

Only West Virginia, South Dakota, and Mississippi have a lesser average salary ranking at No. 49, No. 50, and No. 51, in order.

While legislation has invested in Florida’s education, the funds promised by legislators and officials around the state have yet to come. Florida has not only failed to meet its target of having all teachers earn an average of $47,500 per year, but it also ranks low in terms of student investment. According to the NEA, Florida ranks 44th in terms of average per-student spending, with $10,703 per student. Florida’s ranking has been unchanged since 2019.

Specific areas to transfer or add cash have not been finalized because the budget is still being evaluated.

State officials from the Florida Senate said the appropriations bill that is currently under review by the governor requires “each school district must pay each employee at least $15.00 per hour by October 1, 2022.”

Further, officials said, “Fifty percent of the $250,000,000 provided in Specific Appropriations 5 and 86 for the Teacher Salary Increase Allocation is provided for school districts to increase the minimum base salary for full-time classroom teachers as defined in section 1012.01(2)(a), Florida Statutes, plus certified prekindergarten teachers funded in the Florida Education Finance Program, but not including substitute teachers, to at least $47,500, or to the maximum amount achievable based on the school district’s allocation.”

With the budget still in the works, it is unclear if the deadlines named to provide teachers with raises will hold.

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