Florida teachers will get a pay raise promised by Rick Scott, but it’s not going to prove as fat – or arrive as fast – as many thought.
Scott pushed for a $2,500-across-the-board increase for months. But House and Senate budget negotiators have finalized a pay plan that the state’s largest teachers’ union and many Democrats fear could come up short.
It also is structured so that it will be more than a year before teachers get their checks.
“It’s disappointing at best and a slap in the face at worst,” House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale said Monday. “To tell them they have to wait until 2014, that’s ridiculous.”
But Scott was quick to chalk the compromise up in the win column.
“Look, this is a victory,” Scott told reporters. “It’s a victory for teachers, for parents, for students. We have the $480 million in the budget that I proposed. All teachers have an opportunity to have a pay raise.”
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said teachers should be happy with the boost, part of a $1 billion increase for education.
“I think it’s still a win,” Weatherford said, adding, “The governor’s very happy with us. We’re moving forward and we’re very happy with the direction session is taking us.”
The teacher pay was among the final pieces of a state spending plan settled late Sunday.
The $74.5 billion budget, the largest in state history, was printed and sent to lawmakers at 1:37 p.m. Monday, starting a constitutionally required 72-hour cooling-off period before a final vote can be taken.
After six years of belt-tightening, the spending plan is loaded with hometown projects sought by top lawmakers, including a $14 million science building at Gulf Coast State College, in Senate President Don Gaetz’s Panhandle district, and a $6.5 million building at the college in Weatherford’s Wesley Chapel hometown.
“I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president. “It’s been a long time since a lot of these guys have been able to produce member projects for their communities.”
With the legislative session’s final scheduled day Friday, it’s possible lawmakers could approve the budget and skip town a day early.
But early exits by the Legislature are rare.
Still, the teacher package ends a tug-of-war that saw House and Senate leaders insisting that raises be tied to job performance. They dismissed the governor’s pitch that the money go to all teachers.
Under the budget agreement, teachers graded “effective” will be eligible for a $2,500 pay raise, beginning in June 2014. Those rated “highly effective” would be eligible for $3,500.
The grading would be shaped by student achievement, with a final plan for distributing the pay hikes still to be developed and approved by school boards across the state.
Legislative leaders also expanded the pay raises to include guidance counselors, librarians, school psychologists, social workers, principals and assistant principals.
But by not expanding the $480 million pool of money, critics said the size of the pay raises will shrink.
Scott’s office, though, said all teachers should draw at least $2,000, according to the Department of Education.
Florida Education Association President Andy Ford said Scott had tried to reward teachers for their role in helping the state make nationally recognized gains in education.
But he added, “We are disappointed that the House and Senate leadership have thwarted those efforts by delaying any salary increases, if they are to be provided at all, until June of next year.”
Ford said, “We are also disappointed that the Legislature, without making additional funds available, has required that the money allocated must be distributed to school administrators in addition to the instructional personnel who actually deliver education to our students.”
For schools, the budget proposal also boosts per-pupil spending to an average $6,779, a $404 increase. It’s below the state’s high-water mark, $7,126 per-student, reached during the pre-recession, 2006-07 school year.
The budget also includes a 3 percent college and university tuition increase – which Scott again Monday said he opposes.
With lawmakers heading toward the finish line, Scott said a deal also has come together for another of his priorities – elimination of the state’s sales tax on manufacturing equipment purchases.
Scott said lawmakers have agreed to lift the tax for three years – reviewing it later apparently to gauge whether it’s worthwhile.
But Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, later called Scott’s characterization as “premature.”
“I don’t believe any final agreement has been concluded…but the governor has been very helpful,” Gaetz said.
The sales tax elimination would remove $115 million from the state treasury its first full year on the books.
Scott last year signed into law a measure that reduced the sales tax on manufacturers by $56.4 million – a move that has led some lawmakers to question whether a bigger break is needed.
Scott’s proposal is complicated by Democrats, who say he needs to receive two-thirds approval from the Legislature under the constitution, since erasing the tax on manufacturing would affect local governments.
House Democrats are considering voting in a bloc against the tax break, which could be enough to kill the legislation.
“Nobody has shown why this is needed,” Thurston said.
Teacher pay raise plan
- “Effective” teachers could get $2,500.
- “Highly effective” eligible for $3,500.
- Also eligible: guidance counselors, librarians, school psychologists, social workers, principals and assistant principals.
- Raises effective June 2014.
Source: SB 1500, general appropriations bill for 2013-14