Effect of low teachers’ pay is far-reaching
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
While the legislature try to figure out the best way to fund a proposed pay raise package for teachers, the residual effects of the current low pay are being felt in several quarters.
Several of the drawbacks caused by state teachers being among the lowest paid in the country go beyond the classroom. Enrollment in education courses is down at FAMU and the Leon County School district is among many in the state dealing with a teacher shortage.
Both FAMU president Larry Robinson and Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hannah said they’ve been coping with the fallout of low teachers’ salaries for several years. Robinson and Hannah made their comments while attending a recent march that brought 15,000 teachers and support staff to Tallahassee in protest of low pay.
Recruiting students to major in education has become a challenge because of low salaries in the profession, Robinson said.
“What we are trying to do is making sure that we are putting in the minds of students that this is a noble progression and what you do have far-reaching implications on the rest of this state, your communities and the nation as a whole,” Robinson said. “So unless we continue to find student who are committed to this noble profession, the whole educational system is in trouble.”
Robinson pointed out that most FAMU education graduates tend to work in areas with Title 1 schools. Often those are in Black communities, a reason that several FAMU students participated in the recent march, Robinson said.
“Our students understand all of that, our administrators and staff understand all of that and so they just had to be here today,” he said.
As a result of low pay, Hannah said, the teacher shortage in Leon County and the state has reached “crisis level.” The average annual salary for teachers in the district is between $35,000 and $40,000.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has sent a proposal to the legislature asking for an average of $47,500 annual salary for state teachers. While that might be acceptable in some quarters, it doesn’t address an even bigger issue, Hannah said.
“We need to have some concrete dollars to put into a teacher’s base pay to count toward their retirement,” Hannah said.
Part of DeSantis’ proposal calls for $300 million for a new bonus program primarily for educators who work with Title 1 schools. However, teachers like Lee Wright who works at Cypress Creek High School in Orange County echoed Hannah’s concern about retirement.
“Bonuses are great, but they are a one-time thing,” Wright said. “You can’t bank on that money going into retirement or next year for the cost of living.”
Meanwhile, Chris Latvala, a Republican who chairs the House PreK-12 Appropriations Committee, is pushing for $650 million toward a pay increase, without funding for bonuses. However, there is optimism that education funding will be a major portion of the state budget, as it is a DeSantis priority.