Scott wants to give $2,500 raise to Florida teachers
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 3:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 3:30 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday continued his crusade to boost public education funding, outlining a plan to give some 168,000 Florida classroom teachers a $2,500 pay raise.
But it will be up to the Florida Legislature to decide how much of the governor's $480 million plan will become a reality. Questions abound about the governor's ambitious pay plan, including the fundamental issue of how the state can pay for it while still meeting many other pressing budget needs.
"The governor proposes and the Legislature disposes," said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.
The pay plan also drew questions from critics about the politics at play in this latest boost to education spending being floated by Scott.
Elected as a tea party candidate in 2010, Scott helped engineer a $1.3 billion cut for public school funding in 2011 and the creation of a controversial law tying teacher pay and evaluations to student performance. On Thursday, new Education Commissioner Tony Bennett indicated that the governor had asked him to look into how that law will be implemented and said that the measure might need to be "tweaked."
Scott reversed his position on school funding last year and won support for a $1 billion increase in the kindergarten-through-high-school system.
On Wednesday, Scott — who will deliver his full budget plan for 2013-14 to the Legislature in the next week or so — outlined his teacher pay plan at Ocoee Middle School near Orlando.
"We have made the hard choices over the last few years to get our economy growing again," Scott said. "We are back on track. Now, we need to double down on our investment in education."
Legislative leaders were receptive to Scott's proposal, but they cautioned that they will have to see how the measure fits into the overall $70 billion-plus state spending plan for the budget year, which begins July 1.
"I've always been for improving compensation for effective teachers," said Gaetz, a former school superintendent in Okaloosa County. But he added: "$480 million is a lot of money. It's more money than some people think we'll have."
Scott said he will ask for more money for the K-12 system in addition to the $480 million pay plan.
The state Board of Education has asked for an $891 million increase for the K-12 system, without the pay raise. The board included a $442 million request for school technology improvements and $198 million for enrollment growth in Florida's 67 school districts. Following the mass shootings in Connecticut, school districts also are asking for added funding for school safety.
How Scott's pay request will mesh with those initiatives is unclear.
The state's $70 billion budget is expected to have roughly $1.2 billion in additional revenue next year — an amount that could easily be eclipsed by growth in Medicaid, the need to make up a $300 million state university cut, a state worker pay increase and increases for other state programs, ranging from prisons to road construction.
Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the Senate is receptive to the idea of a pay increase for teachers but "we need to make sure those funds are there."
Although Scott talked about an "across-the-board" pay increase, Galvano and Gaetz said the Senate was interested in a performance-based pay plan.
Galvano said there also is the question of which school personnel would receive the raises, which would have to be negotiated in each district by the local school boards.
If it is limited strictly to classroom teachers, "that excludes a lot of people like guidance counselors and teachers who have been moved out of the classroom because of advancement and achievement on their part and other aspects of the school system from lunch ladies to administrators," Galvano said.
Scott said there will be enough additional money in his K-12 request to cover raises for non-classroom personnel if the districts decide to do that.
Andy Ford, head of the Florida Education Association, the state's major teachers' union, said the $2,500 raise "would certainly be welcome, but it's important to put it in its proper context."
Ford noted teachers and other school personnel lost 3 percent of their salary beginning in 2011 when Scott and lawmakers decided the workers needed to contribute to the state pension fund. But Ford called the pay plan "a step in the right direction" that "begins to repair the damage that has been done to our students and those who work in our schools."
Democrats saw a political motive in Scott's plan, noting that the Republican governor has become more of an advocate for public education as his 2014 re-election campaign nears.
Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, called Scott's plan "lofty" and questioned how the governor would fund it while still pressing ahead with tax breaks.
"It's really going to boil down to how is he going to fund it as well as all the tax breaks for businesses in the state," Bullard said. "I might go as far to say it looks like somebody who is trying to run for office."
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