Teachers throughout Florida are making their way to Tallahassee to protest on Monday, the eve of the start of the 2020 legislative session. The teachers unions expects thousands of teachers, parents, and supporters of public education to take part.
Florida Education Association says inadequate funding has turned Florida’s public education system into one of the worst in the country. Despite Governor Ron DeSantis proclaiming this is the “Year of the Teacher” and proposing a minimum teacher salary of $47,500, and another $300 million in bonuses—Florida teachers want more.
Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez and Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram spoke with The Florida Roundup about the issue.
Here’s an excerpt of their conversation:
The Florida Roundup: Teacher unions here in Florida have called the governor's proposed teacher pay raise a start. Is it a start in your estimation or is it a destination?
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR JEANETTE NUÑEZ: I would say that it is a bold action on behalf of this governor, and it is absolutely a destination. So, what the governor has unveiled in his teacher pay proposal is obviously a significant increase in the minimum starting salary for full time classroom teachers. And really what his goal was to get us from where we're at currently, which is the sort of middle of the pack, to number two in the country.
Unfortunately, I don't think we got the reaction from the teachers union. I think that's more political theater than anything else. But I think that what we set out to accomplish is recognizing that there is an issue with our teacher pay. Recognizing that we, as Florida's executive branch, need to lead on that issue and also really putting forward a proposal that I think the legislature can work with. Obviously, they ultimately have the responsibility to appropriate the dollars. So I think we'll have a spirited discussion over the course of the next two months. But I do think it's the destination.
The Florida Roundup: Does that mean that it's unlikely to go any higher? I think some of the teacher unions and especially some of the higher cost of living locations in Florida would like to see that number moved up from $47,500.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR JEANETTE NUÑEZ: Well, sure. I think that there's a lot of nuances to not go into that. This is the discussion making around the policy. And so obviously, we'll work with our legislative partners and we're happy to adapt where we need to.
We're flexible. The governor has always shown that he's respectful of the legislative branch and their authority and that he's respectful of the process. So we're eager to work with them. We're eager to be flexible. What we believe is the right course of action. And so what we hope to accomplish is at the end of the day, when we're done with session and about 60 days, what we'll see is a significant increase in teacher pay, something that's going to really be meaningful.
And the way the governor unveils it right now, as it stands, it would provide more than 101,000 with a pay raise. That's a significant number. And I think that that's something that, you know, everyone should get behind.
The Florida Roundup: How wedded is the governor and his administration to $47,500?
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR JEANETTE NUÑEZ: No, but it's a significant number.
The Florida Roundup: Significant from where it is now? But is that going to be the ceiling of first-year teacher pay in Florida that the governor is essentially going to stand for?
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR JEANETTE NUÑEZ: Clearly, I would say that that's dependent upon our work with the legislature. And so, we're talking over 600 million dollars to be able to accomplish that goal—that number that you spoke about, the forty seven thousand five hundred dollars. But ultimately, I think what we're hoping to accomplish is to get us to where we would like to be, which is leading the nation or close therein.
The Florida Roundup: Among the two points that I imagine are going to be negotiated are on the table. One is how the governor's proposal deals with veteran teachers that have not been party to pay raises over the past several years. In this $47,500 may be close to what veteran teachers are already making. And, of course, the details around cost of living differences between, you know, high cost of living places and lower cost of living places. How is the governor approaching now? Are you approaching those two points as it relates to teacher pay?
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR JEANETTE NUÑEZ: Well, certainly that's been discussed. And obviously you've heard a lot of focus on what we are going to do for veteran teachers? And I would say that we have obviously tried to address veteran teachers, not just these, about this particular proposal, but even last year, as the governor looks to revamp and reinvest in the bonus program, which was a bonus program that officers that bonus program and go by the wayside, though, under the governor, a proposal here for teacher pay.
The Florida Roundup: On the face of it, it sounds like the governor is hearing your cries. Why the need to rally?
FEDRICK INGRAM: So there's always a need for teachers and educational support professionals and stakeholders to speak up for public schools. And let me say about the governor's plan. We appreciate the effort, but there is a better way to deal with the over 3,000 classrooms that did not have a certified teacher this year.
There's a better way to deal with the exodus of teachers that we see in our classrooms every day. There's a better way to not divide our teachers and just dealing with beginning an entry-level salary and pitting veteran teachers against a particular pay plan. We believe that there is a more equitable way to do that. And we also believe as a part of this $900 million package, there's still a $300 million part of that that says we're going to exercise that in bonuses.
Bonuses are wrong. The research tells us that they have not worked in many different iterations here in the state of Florida. So our teachers and our supporters and our stakeholders are coming to Tallahassee simply because we want to make things right. And we believe that there's a better way to do what we're trying to do, and that is provide every classroom with a quality teacher and support all of our educational stakeholders, inclusive of the educational employees that work in all of our schools.
The Florida Roundup: What I hear you saying in part is that the teachers union in this state, while you might like the raise for some teachers, you're saying that might be unfair to veteran teachers who already make above that threshold.
FEDRICK INGRAM: Well not only who don't make above that threshold, who are right at the threshold. There are teachers who will not see any part of this plan from the governor at all, you know, who teach in certain situations. They could be counselors. They could be speech language pathologist.
And though they could be pre-K teachers, those folks are not included in the governor's pay plan as it relates to bonuses and in some parts of this that this entry level salary. We have veteran teachers that put the school district, the public school districts on their shoulders each and every day. And we ought to be talking about every single teacher in our school district there. There are over 200000 teachers in our public schools. And we can do. We can come up with a pay plan that is equitable for all of them. We have the money to do it. This is not about skill. This is about will.
The Florida Roundup: How do you plan to lobby the legislature around this? Governor DeSantis is coming into this 60-day legislative session with high approval ratings. He is going to try to pursue this agenda. But some of his fellow Republican legislators might not want to commit to a $900 million spending plan for education?
FEDRICK INGRAM: I believe that they should. I believe that you have to devise a plan that is 360 degrees. We continue to have conversations with the governor's office. We continue to have conversations with the speaker of the House, with the Senate president. We continue to try to work on both sides of the aisle.
If you put children first, we always win. And I like to say, if you put children first, we always find our way home. At home is student success. Home is to recruit and retain the best educators and formulate the proper investment. And part of that strategy is to start our legislative session with parents and students and teachers crying aloud, but crying with one voice, saying that we must do better by our public schools because we are 47th in the nation in teacher pay. We are 43rd in per pupil spending as it relates to the rest of the nation. And that's shameful. While the governor holds an approval rating that is favorable, I will tell you that there will be thousands here who take exception with the pay plan that is coming from the governor's office.