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OPINION: DeSantis’ plan to increase teacher salaries is a step in the right direction

Gov. Ron DeSantis reworked Florida’s old teacher bonus program into a much needed pay raise for all teachers across the board. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

On June 24, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill allocating an additional $500 million for teachers’ salaries, which will move Florida from 26th in the nation for average teacher salary to No. 5.

The bill was the second recent attempt to increase teacher salary after the controversial Best and Brightest Award Program was passed by Florida lawmakers in 2015 to address low teacher pay.

The program was filled with ridiculous criteria, the worst of which possibly being allocating bonuses based on educators’ SAT and ACT scores. That’s right, teachers’ tests scores from when they graduated high school.

While the program was amended in 2019, the Tampa Bay Times reported that many teachers said the new criteria is worse. Relatively small bonuses of $1,000 per teacher are awarded to schools with the highest average test scores among students with larger bonuses of up to $2,500 reliant solely on principal recommendation. The system encourages a dog-and-pony show where impressing higher-ups is more important than the education of students.

DeSantis’ plan starts with the cutting of this program and introduces a rise in teacher compensation across the board. The bill intends to increase starting pay for new K-12 teachers to $47,500 from an average of $37,636. Of the $500 million allocated, $100 million will go to increasing the pay of veteran teachers who already make more than the average minimum salary.

How much each teacher will receive is not yet clear, but the bill is a step in the right direction. While the state cannot directly influence what schools pay their teachers, funds will be divided among schools and administrators will be told to get starting salaries as close to $47,500 as possible. When these raises should take place is still not clear.

Where the money will come from is still unclear as well. DeSantis originally asked for $900 million for the bill, but had to cut it down due to “plummeting state revenue from the coronavirus crisis,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Best and Brightest Award Program was worth $285 million, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and cutting it will cover most of the cost of the new budget. But, where the rest of the funds will come from is currently a mystery. “We’re going to have to make tough choices, but this is important,” DeSantis said while signing the bill on June 24 at Mater Academy in Hialeah Gardens.

Public schools in Florida have been feeling the effects of low teacher pay for a long time. Florida has a serious and growing teacher shortage. According to the Florida Education Association, over 2,440 teaching positions remain unfilled as of January 2020, a 10 percent increase from January 2019.

Hopefully, this will be the start of a change in Florida’s public schools. Early childhood experiences shape the future of a generation. It is unfair that so many young students are not given an equal opportunity to succeed because the conditions of the school they grew up in are inadequate. Good teachers are so important to a functioning society, so this salary increase will hopefully be the first of many attempts to improve the working conditions of educators.