The combined $900 million push by Florida gov. Ron DeSantis is an out-of-the box move by a Republican governor in a state where his party is often accused of starving public schools.
Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced a plan to provide bonuses for teachers and principals, with higher amounts going to those who work at underperforming schools.
It would cost an estimated $300 million a year. That’s not all new money. The plan would replace the Best and Brightest bonus plan that’s been taking heat from educators around the state since its inception.
In fact — and not coincidentally — a federal judge has just approved a settlement in a class-action lawsuit alleging the Best and Brightest program discriminated against black, Hispanic and older teachers. That’s predominately because of its dependence on ACT and SAT scores in deciding who did and did not receive the bonuses. Good riddance.
The new plan is calling for teacher bonuses ranging from $500 to $7,500 based on school grade improvements, with principals in line for one-time awards of between $1,250 and $10,000.
>>>Related content: DeSantis’s teacher pay plan drawing little support from those it’s supposed to help
DeSantis previously announced a plan to raise starting salaries for new teachers to a respectable $47,500 — second only to New Jersey among the state’s for base pay.
The combined $900 million push by DeSantis is an out-of-the box move by a Republican governor in a state where his party is often accused of starving public schools.
Teachers’ unions, led by the Florida Education Association, are aligning against the first initiative because it does absolutely nothing for veteran teachers. They add that the unions say bonus programs are fraught with devilish details, and that across-the-board raises are what teachers deserve and need. Similar criticism is echoing from the union’s Democratic allies in the Legislature.
“This is a cockamamie plan,” Pat Gardner, president of the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, which is not affiliated with the FEA, told Gannett’s John Kennedy. “The minimum salary won’t do anything for a lot of veteran teachers and forget about the bonus plan — hey, you can’t put what you earn in a bonus on a mortgage application.”
We hesitate to argue, though we understand DeSantis’ stated aim at attracting a dwindling number of potential teachers turning away from education because of some of the lowest salaries in the country. Not to mention, his own party’s legislative meddling — on behalf of charter schools and private school vouchers — that seems to always favor process over product.
On the surface it sounds good: Incentivize great teachers to move into schools with performance issues. But in practice might it not also incentivize lazy teachers to move into classrooms where their own expectations would be lower — and for more money?
Also, it would have little effect in most urban Florida counties — like Palm Beach — where salaries already approach or surpass these levels.
And the teachers’ unions have also identified the real problem with the program — Florida’s flawed methodology for grading schools. Or, an even larger issue, should we be grading schools at all? Only 15 of the 50 states now do.
There are several reasons, including how grades can be, and are being, manipulated. But the overriding reason, upon which other states agree, is the A-F system results in zero tangible benefits to the students — other than shaming them.
Some studies show the effect is multiplied in the surrounding neighborhoods and commerce. Families are much less likely to move into a neighborhood served by a failing schools. And businesses, likewise, won’t set up shop. It can create a downward spiral that only adds to the problems in the lower-performing schools.
The key indicator of failing schools isn’t education, its income. Across Florida the median income is $50,883. Median income for A schools is $54,770; $46,040 for B schools; and $38,852 for C-rated schools. It gets worse.
Schools assigned an A grade in Florida have less than half their students living in poverty; in D and F schools, that rate is 98 percent.
We think the vast majority of teachers do their level best at whatever school they call home. What they need is a living wage and lawmakers to simply keep clear of “fixing” education by way of partisan politics and payola.
It’s not difficult to figure out who’s really failing education in the Sunshine State.
An earlier version of this editorial appeared in the The St. Augustine Record.