Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock … oh, wait, this is Florida, it may be better say unless you’ve been hiding out in a hammock under mosquito netting in the swamp … you’ve heard that the governor made a proposal to raise the minimum salary for Florida’s public school teachers to $47,500 a year.
An estimated 101,000 teachers throughout the state would benefit from the proposal. (Disclosure: Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) would be one of them, but not by much. After 15 years, he has been able to get close to that amount.)
Veteran teachers have objected, not because they think they are paid enough, but because the plan would nudge them up to a level that will also be offered to brand-new teachers, the teachers whom they are expected to mentor and develop. The plan would devalue the years of experience that veterans possess despite generally-accepted research that teachers grow in effectiveness over the years, especially after the first five years in the classroom.
That’s particularly galling to veteran teachers under current Florida law, which prevents pay raises to any teacher not rated effective or higher and steers bonus payments to teachers based upon being rated ‘highly effective.’
If effectiveness is so important to the politicians, why does the governor’s proposal make no distinction between teachers who have persevered in the classroom and new hires, who have only a 50% chance of remaining in the classroom after five years?
Despite this, the proposal to set a minimum teaching salary is a good start.
But it’s only a start.
How about we set a minimum scale instead? New teachers up to five years of experience make about $43,000? Five years to ten years, $46,000. Ten to fifteen (gracious, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hopes that doesn’t sound like a prison sentence), $50,000. Fifteen to twenty, $55,000. Over twenty, $60,000.
Provide the funding to school districts through the base student allocation and let each district’s teachers negotiate with their school boards to set an actual contract.
But even that is only a start.
It is scandalous that support personnel make low wages and get ignored when pay for educators is discussed. While this can be a difficult area, they should not be left out. For purposes of discussion, how about a minimum of $15 an hour, a generally recognized standard to aspire to for all workers.
That should extend to contractors as well. It does no good to specify a mininum wage for a custodian or cafeteria worker if a school district contracts with a private company for those services and the private company is free to suppress wage levels.
Other issues remain. There is the cost-of-living differential across the state as well as the fact that some counties have recently adopted taxes to supplement teachers’ salaries and others have not. Finally, legislation would need some kind of linkage to cost-of-living indexes so that the new minimums would not be made irrelevant by rising prices.
Finally, the elephant in the room must be addressed. Which teachers would be included under these proposals? All teachers, all teachers whose schools receive public money in some form (traditional, charter, vouchers), only public school teachers? If only public school teachers, how do we define public? Does that include charter schools?
This is why good ideas are often hard to implement in legislation and get the intended result.
But let’s make a start a graduated scale of minimum salary geared toward years of experience.
Disclosure: GOT is in his 15th year of teaching. According to his pay scale, he would receive a very modest bump with the governor’s proposal to set a minimum salary of $47,500.