The state’s largest teachers union kicked off an election-year campaign Tuesday aimed at getting Florida politicians to sign a pledge vowing to boost the pay of educators to the national average over the next five years.
The proposal could cost as much as $600 million, the Florida Education Association acknowledged.
“Florida is a wealthy state … we can afford to make funding for education and educator salaries a priority,” said FEA President Joanne McCall.
Although salaries are decided by county school boards and vary widely, Florida’s average annual teacher salary is $12,000 less than the national average of $59,660. The FEA said that ranks Florida 45th in the nation when it comes to pay for teachers and school staff.
In a conference call announcing the pledge drive, McCall was joined by several teachers who talked about juggling second jobs to make ends meet.
“Despite the challenges being a teacher in Florida, I love my job and I love my students,” said Brian Kerekes, an Osceola County teacher who works part time at Disney World.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature approved a state budget five years ago that allowed for at least a $2,500 teacher raise. But that came shortly after Scott and lawmakers forced teachers and other public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state’s retirement system.
According to the National Education Association, teacher pay in Florida has declined by 12 percent over the past decade because of inflation.
The FEA is a steady supporter of Democratic candidates and has a combative relationship with Scott and many Republican leaders. Four of the Democratic candidates for governor already have signed onto the union pledge, along with a handful of the party’s candidates for the Legislature and other offices.
The FEA has its own election battle on its hands, with McCall challenged for the top post in the FEA by Vice President Fedrick Ingram. The contest, to be settled in October, could distract one of the Florida Democratic Party’s staunchest allies heading into a big election season.
The 140,000-member FEA is the largest labor organization in the Southeast.