DeSantis proposes new bonus, recruitment plans for Florida teachers

Florida's largest school voucher program boosts college attendance, graduation, study finds

By: Leslie Postal

Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed new efforts Thursday to reward top teachers with bonuses and to recruit college students into the teaching profession.

His new bonus proposal would alter the controversial Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, doing away with the section that rewards teachers partly based on their scores on the ACT or SAT college admissions exams they took while in high school.

DeSantis said last week “that didn’t make sense,” echoing arguments teachers have made since the Florida Legislature crafted the program in 2015.

The governor announced his proposal at a high school in Hillsborough County on Thursday morning.

His plan, he said, would give nearly 45,000 teachers who had earned “highly effective” ratings bonuses of $9,000 or more. On Twitter, he wrote that teachers would earn more than $9,000 if they work in a school that gained at least 1 percent more in points in its school grading calculation, used to issue A-to-F grades to public schools.

School principals could earn bonuses of up to $6,500 if they are “creating classroom environments to help students thrive,” his office said.

“I’m proud to announce a renewed investment to recruit and retain the best, most dedicated educators for Florida schools,” DeSantis tweeted.

This year, the top-rated teachers — those with “highly effective” evaluations and ACT or SAT above the 80 percentile — are to earn bonuses of $6,000 under the Best and Brightest program. Other teachers are to earn bonuses of $1,200 or $800, if they have “highly effective” or “effective” evaluations but didn’t post high test scores back when they applied to college.

Last year, more than 9,200 teachers out of nearly 190,000 won the top award, though many thousands more won the smaller ones, as about 98 percent of teachers earned “effective” or “highly effective” ratings.

DeSantis said he would propose “$422 million for compensation increases” and another $10 million for a new teacher recruitment program that would provide tuition forgiveness to up to 1,700 new teachers a year if they committed to working in Florida for five years.

This year’s budget includes nearly $234 million for the Best and Brightest program.

The Legislature crafts the state budget, so DeSantis’ proposal is just that at this point. But it will likely be welcomed by some educators, who are struggling with a teacher shortage and frustrated by a bonus program they say isn’t tied to excellent results in the classroom.

Walt Griffin, superintendent of Seminole County schools, for example, cited “teacher recruitment and retention” when asked about the most-pressing issue in his district at a chamber of commerce event in Lake Mary on Thursday morning.

“As a state and as a nation…we have to elevate the teaching profession,” Griffin said. “Until we start paying teachers what they are worth, we are going to be dealing with this problem.”

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, has been a harsh critic of the Best and Brightest program and said it viewed the governor’s proposal as “a start toward fixing the discriminatory and unfair provisions of that bad legislation.”

The union also said it hoped DeSantis’ administration will “push harder” to solve the state’s teacher shortage.

“There doesn’t have to be a revolutionary way to solve Florida’s problem with recruiting and retaining teachers,” said Fedrick Ingram, the union president, in a statement. “We will be urging the governor and the Legislature to go one step further: We need competitive salaries for teachers and education staff.” 407-420-5273

Best and Brightest: Most bonus-winning teachers work in more-affluent schools »

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