Gov. Ron DeSantis’ $91.4 billion fiscal 2021 budget request includes nearly $27 billion in proposed education spending, a $962 million increase over this year’s budget that the governor says is necessary to finance “bold and meaningful” initiatives.
Among them: $600 million in pay raises for 101,000 teachers; $300 million for a revised bonus program; and a proposed $1 billion increase in a $22.9 billion Florida Education Finance Program (FEDP) that would raise per-student school funding by $302 to nearly $8,000 each next school year.
While seeking the $1 billion FEDP increase, DeSantis’ "Bolder, Brighter, Better Future" budget plan also calls for a 0.126 millage cut in the FEFP’s local-effort property tax, returning $247.3 million to homeowners.
Other components include $100 million for mental health programs, a $25 million increase; $75 million for school safety programs, $25 million more than this year; and nearly $50 million more for colleges and universities without tuition increases.
K-12 funding: The $22.9 billion FEFP would include $13.24 billion in state/local money. The $1 billion FEFP increase would require $792.3 million in additional state money and $245 million in additional local funding.
Under DeSantis plan, school spending would increase by $302 a student, and the Base Student Allocation (BSA) by $50, for each of Florida’s 2.8 million K-12 students, rising to $7,979 per capita.
The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, called the $50 BSA increase inadequate compared to a consolidated $514 BSA hike it recommends as part of a $2.4 billion proposal for a 10-percent pay increase for every school employee.
The $2.4 billion is a first-year “down payment” in a 10-year, $22-billion "Decade of Progress" plan the FEA is touting in a statewide bus tour.
“The governor’s recommendations are just that,” FEA President Fedrick Ingram said. “Last year, the Legislature gave a larger (BSA) increase than what the governor requested while slashing his proposed budget for teacher bonuses. This year, they should go a step further and allocate all proposed bonus money to the BSA.”
Starting salary of $47,500: The budget request seeks $602.3 million to increase the minimum salary to $47,500 for teachers, essentially giving 101,000 of the state’s 176,000 teachers a raise.
Florida’s average starting teacher salary was $37,000 and median overall teacher salary was $48,486 in 2018, according to the Florida Department of Education. WalletHub ranks the state 48th among states in teacher pay while the National Education Association places Florida 46th.
His proposed $47,500 starting teacher salary “takes Florida to number 2 in the nation,” DeSantis said. “Everybody in Florida will be at the minimum” or higher.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay, endorsed the proposal.
“It is absolutely critical we give teachers and school staff raises this year. This is the number one priority of the Florida House Democrats,” McGhee said. “We look forward to working with Gov. DeSantis and our Republican colleagues to craft a budget that includes raises for our educators.”
“This $603 million investment in Florida’s teachers would be unprecedented, and it would help restore cuts made to teacher pay in the decade following the Great Recession, which were deeper in Florida than in any other state,” Florida Policy Institute CEO Sadaf Knight said in a statement.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, although calling DeSantis’ overall budget request “most encouraging,” noted that ”details of the ambitious teacher-pay program remain obscure, not a small matter.”
The FEA noted the budget request does little for the state’s other 70,000 school workers and raises concerns about who controls the education purse strings.
“DeSantis’ budget proposal calls for a state-set salary for classroom teachers in public schools, removing pay decisions from local hands, and provides yet another iteration of Florida’s failed bonus plans,” the FEA said. ”His plan completely leaves out the thousands of education staff professionals essential to students’ education.”
Revised Bonus Plan: The budget request does away with the $285 million Best and Brightest bonus program and replaces it with a proposed $290.7 million Florida Classroom Teacher Bonus Program and proposed $9.4 million Florida School Principal Bonus Program.
DeSantis said his proposal “repurposes” $300 million for teacher bonuses based on college admission test scores and replaces it with a metric that would focus on educators in Title 1 schools, which have a higher proportion of students living in poverty.
“This will have a really meaningful impact,” DeSantis said. “It’s simpler. The focus on the Title I makes sense. This budget invests in our Title 1 schools, by focusing on the schools that serve most of our students born with an economic disadvantage, the schools that often need the greatest support; and this is critical. We must implement game changing policy if we’re going to move the needle for these students.”