By Stephanie Yocum | Opinion| Lakeland Ledger| October 17, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced a $600 million proposal to increase the minimum teacher salary to $47,500.
While I am encouraged the conversation surrounding teacher compensation has shifted from bogus bonus schemes to meaningful salary movement, I am concerned this announcement has generated questions and concerns that the governor wasn’t prepared to answer. Possibly more troubling was the fact that neither he nor his staff seemed to have even considered these domino-effect issues.
Florida’s starting teacher salary ranks 26th in the nation, while its average teacher pay languishes at 46th. Here in Polk County, the starting teacher salary is one of the highest in the state, yet we can’t seem to retain these folks. After a few years, new teachers in Polk realize that their salary is stagnant. Poor salary movement, coupled with unrealistic workload expectations, pushes the teacher to leave the profession while they still have other career options.
The governor’s salary plan for recruitment is a shiny distraction to the abysmal issue of retaining experienced, highly qualified staff across the board. According to Polk County Public Schools’ current Performance Salary Schedule, a teacher would need 14 years of experience to reach $47,572, and that’s with getting a level increase for experience for every year taught — which does not happen thanks to the defunding of K-12 public education from Tallahassee over the past 20 years.
Are veteran teachers going to be paid the same amount as a beginning teacher?
Our education staff professionals — paraprofessionals, bus drivers, office staff, food-service employees, custodial personnel and others — are experiencing even more dire salary issues. In Florida, 50,000 education staff professionals earn a poverty wage. When will our state government recognize the integral role these employees play in our school system, and pay our support staff appropriately?
Teachers and education staff professionals across Florida are urging our state to invest in our students’ future. We are asking our Legislature and governor for $22 billion over the next decade to bring Florida into the top 10 in overall education funding, with a down payment on this investment of $2.4 billion in this next legislative budget. Florida didn’t get into this mess overnight, but this decade of progress is our way out.
Our state has the fourth-largest economy in the country; the 17th-largest economy in the world. We have the money to invest, and our representatives must start making public education a priority.
As Joe Biden said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Stephanie Yocum has taught math in public schools for 10 years and is president of the Polk Education Association. She lives in Lakeland.