Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled a series of proposals aimed at increasing teacher “empowerment,” including pumping an additional $200 million into pay raises and giving educators more authority to impose discipline among students.
But House and Senate Democrats are arguing the announcement is mere political fodder.
“This is a political move from a man who wants to run for President and distract from the abortion discussion,” said House Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell, from Tampa.
DeSantis announced at a press conference Monday he wants to put an additional $200 million into the budget for teachers’ salaries this year. Combined with $800 million already inserted into the budget over the last several years, it would bring the annual total amount to $1 billion.
If the Legislature approves the latest funding increase, that would put the average teacher starting salary at $48,000 per year, according to the Governor.
Not all school districts have raised teachers’ salaries, though, and DeSantis blames the local school districts and unions, which have failed to reach agreement, for the delays.
Driskell said Florida Democrats support giving teachers pay raises, but said the state should have increased teachers and given the districts “the control to do what they need to do for teachers’ salaries a long time ago.”
DeSantis also backs a measure to eliminate the automatic deduction from teacher paychecks to pay union dues. There have been unsuccessful attempts in the past to do the same. Democrats say the efforts are politically motivated because Republicans haven’t ended automatic dues for police or firefighter unions, which, unlike teachers’ unions, often support the GOP.
DeSantis also said he supported giving teachers more authority to discipline students and providing teachers with additional protections from punishment if their actions conflict with local School Board policies.
DeSantis is floating the proposal as House Speaker Paul Renner pushes for an expansion of the Family Empowerment Scholarship program. The program is currently limited to households earning at or below 375% of the federal poverty level. Renner wants it expanded so that a family of four with an income of more than $104,063 per year would qualify.
DeSantis’ announcement also follows news that Florida high school students won’t have access to a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies because his administration says it violates state law and “lacks educational value.”
“I feel like this is gaslighting because you can’t say on the one hand, ‘Teachers, we are going to weaken your ability to have collective bargaining and to pay your union dues. Teachers, you cannot accurately teach history. Teachers, you’re under the gun and we are going to make you compete with these for-profit charter schools and give away all these vouchers to these private schools that don’t require their teachers to go through the same sort (of) training and be certified. But here’s some money, we hope you feel better,’” Driskell said.
“No. We need to talk about this in context and the responsibility of the state Legislature and this Governor for running our education system into the ground.”
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Lauren Book agreed with Driskell.
Book said the additional funds are welcome but that how they are distributed is vital.
“We must respect our teachers, we must give them what they are due and what they are owed,” she said. This is one of those the devil is in the details.”
Christine Sexton of Florida Politics authored this report, with contribution from Gray Rohrer.