The Florida House and Senate are both poised to pass raises for classroom teachers.
But with only a few days to go in the regular Legislative Session, the two chambers have not agreed on who will be eligible for more pay.
For an update, WMNF spoke with Florida Education Association vice president Andrew Spar. The FEA is an association of education labor unions.
“I believe teachers’ raises are still on the table. I think we have two different approaches to the raises. In the Senate, they seem to have a broader approach, wanting to ensure that all teachers benefit from the salary plan. And in the House, they seem to have a very narrow focus that seems to be talking about classroom teachers only.
“So, under the House proposal, we believe upwards of sixty percent of people who work with our kids every day will be left out of any salary benefit from the House proposal. And while the Senate proposal goes further, it still leaves out quite a few people who work with kids, every day, in our public schools.”
SK: And so, it’s no longer just first year, beginning teacher, or lower end of the scale. It’s now everyone, perhaps, getting a raise or, at least, all the classroom teachers getting a raise, even if it’s just the House version that passes?
“Both the House and the Senate have talked about giving money to veteran teachers. The amount of money and the number of teachers who qualify differs between the House and the Senate. But really, in both proposals, the focus is still raising beginning teacher pay, which is something the Governor laid out.
“Of course, as we look at data, we see a lot of teachers are leaving the profession after 2 years, or 3 years, or 5 years even 10 years into the profession. And so we truly believe that the salary issue is not just a beginning salary issue. It is actually the broader salary issue.
“And to really underscore that, the beginning teacher pay in the state of Florida ranks 26th nationally. However, the average teacher pay in the state of Florida ranks 46th nationally, which means we drop 20 slots. The longer you’re in the profession, the less money you’re making, is what that translates to.”
SK: So, what would happen if the Senate and the House pass different versions like they’re looking at now? How do you anticipate that they will get to a common ground?
“Well, I think what’s happening right now is there is a lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes, stuff we’re not seeing between the House and Senate leadership, to try to work out these differences. What we have been trying to do is influence as much as possible and encourage our teachers, and our education staff professionals from around the state to contact lawmakers to make sure that this is a plan that is fair and broad to all who work in our schools, and not just a narrow focus that the House has proposed. But how that all works out we probably won’t know ’till we see the final budget.”
SK: Is there anything else that people should know about teacher pay, but maybe even about any other education issues that are going on in Tallahassee?
“I think what’s important for everyone to know is that, when you look at the teacher pay provisions that they are talking about in the House and Senate right now, those teacher pay provisions, in a lot of cases, are shifting dollars around. So, the good news is they’re ending these bonus schemes that we have seen several iterations of over the years. It seems like the House and Senate are both doing that. And they’re taking that money and putting it into salaries.
“When you look at the amount of new dollars being put in public education in the State of Florida, we believe that not only will we still be in the bottom ten in the nation, we might even fall a level or two. Because Florida, still, is not truly investing in our public schools. Which means while they are addressing teacher pay, in a lot of cases it’s coming at sacrificing other programs that districts may have. And that is still a greater concern for us.
“So, it is our hope, and we will continue to push for, the people keep asking those tough questions. Are we funding our public schools in Florida at an adequate and appropriate level? We believe we are not and we need lawmakers to step up and do better.”