TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The 2023 wish list continues to grow.
Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed Monday morning a K-12 education package for the upcoming legislative session that includes another boost to educator pay and a "Teachers' Bill of Rights."
The cornerstone of DeSantis's plan is a proposed $200 million increase in educator pay over last year's boost, totaling a billion dollars in the forthcoming state budget. It would continue to bump starting salary — now around $48,000 — and increase paychecks for those already on the payroll.
DeSantis said he would also seek a deadline for districts to disperse funds or risk losing them. The Republican said the idea comes after some schools have delayed previous allotments.
"Some waited until after the election," DeSantis told reporters while speaking in Jacksonville. "Some have just now done it. A lot of this is school unions playing games with a lot of this stuff. That is wrong."
Speaking of school unions, DeSantis is planning a bunch of new rules for them, including the elimination of auto deductions from paychecks and requiring annual notification of membership fees. Plus, no union official could earn more than the highest-paid member they represent.
"From day one, Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it his mission to raise teacher pay and elevate educators in the classroom — and he has succeeded," Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said in a statement. "Today's announcement goes another step further to provide historic funding for teachers' salaries and ensure they have control over their classrooms and paychecks."
Today, I unveiled my plan to empower Florida educators by:— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) January 23, 2023
- Securing a $1 billion increase in teacher pay
- Implementing a Teachers' Bill of Rights
- Enacting paycheck protection and other reforms to school unions
- Term limiting school board members to 8 years pic.twitter.com/pPKmQ8mX2b
In addition, teachers get the "Teachers' Bill of Rights." It's a list of protections that aim to shield educators from litigation for disciplining a disruptive class or penalties for following state law if it conflicts with district policy.
"We will be establishing a new process for individuals to notify the state if teachers' rights have been violated," the governor said. "We will ensure that our Florida Department of Education can investigate those complaints very quickly."
Lawmakers have yet to file the official bill language, but Democrats had issues at first blush.
"We should have paid our teachers what they’re worth a long time ago," House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said.
Driskell noted that while Florida's starting pay is among the nation's top ten, its average top salary ranks about $10,000 below the national average, according to the latest NEA data. Members said the devil would be in the details.
"I feel like this is gaslighting, right?" Driskell said. "You can't say on the one hand, 'Teachers, I'm going to weaken your ability to have collective bargaining, but here's some money. We hope you feel better.'"
The Florida Education Association (FEA) was among those who took issue with the proposal. In a statement, the teachers union said DeSantis's ideas were divisive and contributed to an educator shortage in the state.
"Teachers and staff in our public schools struggle to pay rent, homeowners insurance and other bills because their pay is so low, just like so many Floridians," FEA President Andrew Spar said in a statement. "Teachers and staff are leaving at an alarming rate, in large part due to the policies implemented under Gov. DeSantis."
Finally, school boards might face reforms as well. The governor's plan sought additional restrictions on term limits, cutting them from 12 to eight years.
Beyond that, DeSantis pushed for a change to the state constitution that would allow school board candidates to list party affiliation during an election. If lawmakers agree, they can put the idea on the next ballot, requiring at least 60% of Floridians to vote yes for approval.
Time will tell what the final policy looks like, but with a friendly GOP supermajority in control of both legislative chambers, the governor is likely to get most of what he wants.
The 2023 lawmaking session begins on March 7.