DeSantis raises teacher pay, blames unions for Florida's education woes (2024)

Florida teachers will see an increase in salaries for the 2024-25 school year, but the money came with a message.

At a press conference in Hialeah on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he would approve $1.25 billion in the state budget for teacher pay, saying that he didn't "want it to go to the head of the teachers' union, I want it to go to the teachers."

But the state's teachers' union president questioned the $1.25 billion at a press conference later in the day.

"That is not what is in the budget," said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar in a Zoom call. The 2024-25 General Appropriations Act does state an approximate $202 million increase in teacher salaries, on top of $1.05 billion to "to maintain prior year salary increases provided to classroom teachers and other instructional personnel pursuant to section 1011.62, Florida Statutes."

A request for clarification on the salary increase is pending with the governor's press office.

DeSantis, along with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., spent most of their press conference at City of Hialeah Education Academy, a charter school, touting some key policies in his education agenda, especially union-busting legislation that has made it more difficult for bargaining.

"Education unions have been weaponized," Nuñez said. "They're using those union dues, those hard-earned teacher union dues, to push their political agenda."

And if teachers' unions were the target, then United Teachers of Dade (UTD) – the teachers' union for Miami-Dade County Public Schools – was the bull's-eye.

"I think teachers can continue to fight the good fight, give themselves a raise and stay away from UTD," Nuñez said.

The union has 27,000 members, according to its website, and was close to being decertified last year after the union didn't meet the 60% threshold. That rule (SB 256) mandates public sector unions to have 60% required employee membership and prohibits the use of paycheck deductions for union dues.

The union narrowly escaped decertification after 30% of its members signed showing-of-interest cards. But the battle continues, and DeSantis has chosen a side. UTD will have another election this summer, he said at the press conference, standing behind a sign on the lectern that read "Raising Teacher Pay."

"All I can say is that old union in Miami-Dade fought tooth and nail to keep kids locked out of school. They did not want kids in person during COVID, and they've worked really hard to push a political agenda, which is not what we need in our schools," DeSantis said. "And we're about education, not indoctrination, so that is going to be unfolding in the next couple of months."

At FEA's press conference, UTD First Vice President Antonio White alleged the fight against his union is being led by the Freedom Foundation, which describes itself as not a think tank, but "a battle tank that’s battering the entrenched power of left-wing government union bosses who represent a permanent lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, and radical social agendas," according to its website.

In a press release about the $1.25 billion increase in teacher pay, the DeSantis administration highlighted the over $4 billion the state has allocated to salaries since 2019.

“Florida’s education system is no. 1 in the nation, and we want to make sure good educators are attracted to Florida with attractive compensation,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis raises teacher pay, blames unions for Florida's education woes (2)

But Florida's starting salary for teachers currently ranks 16th in the country, and the average teacher pay ranks 50th, according to the National Education Association.

DeSantis has previously blamed teachers' unions for the teacher deficit in the state, which at one point reached 9,000 empty positions in 2022, and the "book ban hoax." DeSantis has said book removals are being exaggerated and are the result of "mainstream media, unions and leftist activists."

Unions have blamed DeSantis' emphasis on starting teacher pay as the cause of pay compression, when newer and less-experienced teachers are paid close to what longer-term ones make, and therefore leading to a shortage of teachers.

A 2020 law that mandated a starting salary of $47,500 requires districts to allocate 20% of the billions of education funds to veteran teachers, while beginning teachers get 80%.

In 2022, the starting salary for a new teacher and the salary for a 14-year veteran teacher were the same in Leon County.

DeSantis raises teacher pay, blames unions for Florida's education woes (3)

To deal with compression, Miami-Dade County voters passed the "Secure Our Future" referendum in 2022, which funds an increase in teacher pay and school security with property taxes. At the time, the tax would have cost the average homeowner $20 a month, according to the school district.

"This governor has put out a narrative that just is not supported by facts, and when you look at the facts, it shows that the governor is dead wrong, and he continues to try and push that narrative by deflecting and blaming others," Spar said at FEA's press conference on Monday afternoon.

DeSantis also mentioned his office had approved about 90% of the 2024-2025 state budget: "This is going to be probably the week that all comes to a head. We haven't made final decisions on every little line item in the budget," he said.

Ana Goñi-Lessan, state watchdog reporter for the USA TODAY Network – Florida, can be reached atagonilessan@gannett.com.

DeSantis raises teacher pay, blames unions for Florida's education woes (2024)
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