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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida educators and unions are unhappy with DeSantis' $200M teacher pay increase

FILE—A photo of an art classroom. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/AP
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AP
FILE—A photo of an art classroom. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Gov. Ron DeSantis approved the allocation Wednesday.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed this year’s state budget, which includes about $200 million for teacher pay raises. However, school officials across Florida say that’s not enough.

Stephanie Yocum is an algebra teacher and president of Polk County’s teacher union. She’s one of many Florida educators who believes the state is failing teachers when it comes to addressing their salaries.

She said she can barely afford her rent or property insurance.

“The state does give classroom teachers like teacher lead money which is like $300 for supplies," explained Yocum. "That’ll get you through the first nine weeks. The dollars that we negotiate, are for salaries and benefits.”

After increasing starting teacher pay in 2020 to $47,500, the Florida Legislature allocated additional money in March, to bring the state’s total investment for teacher salaries to $1.25 billion.

“One of the things that we’ve approved are the major investments in education and the major investments in raising teacher pay," DeSantis said on Monday while speaking in Hialeah." What we’ve done is provided bonuses, and provided an increased amount of money for salaries.”

Florida’s budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, will total $116 billion. Of that, $200 million will go towards teacher pay raises. But teachers like Yocum, aren’t that impressed.

Teachers demand an increase in funding from the legislature during a rally at at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/AP
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AP
Teachers demand an increase in funding from the legislature during a rally at at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Tuesday, April 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“If you divide $200 million by about 200,000 teachers in the state, that’s actually not a lot of money," she said.

The Florida Education Association (FEA) ran the numbers Wednesday and said teachers could expect to see roughly $125 added to their paycheck. FEA President Andrew Spar blasted DeSantis in May for his “fuzzy math.”

Spar said the governor and the Florida Legislature should make better use of taxpayer money, by investing more into things like teacher pay, student mental health programs, and school safety.

“He doesn’t even know what to do with those dollars," Spar said during a press conference. "Imagine that, the governor doesn’t even know what to do.”

One school test coordinator in Osceola County, made a statement about her salary during an interview with reporters. She told them despite having a master’s degree and 23-years of teaching experience, she takes home about $55,000, which is only $6,000 more than what a starting educator makes in her county.

WFSU asked Polk county’s Yocum on Friday, what she believes the average teacher should make in Florida, she replied: "a minimum of $75,000."

Florida’s Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. believes the sunshine state is doing just fine in the education department. During the governor’s budget signing Wednesday, he listed a few of the state’s accomplishments, highlighting Florida’s recent push to stop critical race theory in classrooms and expanding school choice options for students.

“We have removed dangerous and divisive rhetoric like critical race theory, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we have made tremendous investments like you heard today, in teacher pay,” said Diaz.

As pay remains a concern for teacher unions across Florida, FEA’s Spar released a memo Wednesday wanting lawmakers to set $2.5B aside for the next seven years to “put the state in the top 10 in the nation for teacher pay.” That’s a plan Polk county’s Yocum said she can get behind.

“Public education is one of the pillars that makes our democracy strong," said Yocum. "When we have an educated populace that has equal, equitable access to education, our society is stronger.”

Florida currently ranks second-to-last in the nation for average teacher pay. According to the National Education Association, the sunshine state sits right above Washington, D.C. — which pays its teachers roughly $53,000.

Copyright 2024 WFSU

Adrian Andrews