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Governor Seeks More Generous Teacher Bonus Program, But Is Silent on Higher Salaries

| February 8, 2019

He’s got her attention. (David Goehring)

Four years after lawmakers started a controversial teacher-bonus program, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday he wants to scrap the “Best and Brightest” program and plow nearly $423 million into a new effort to reward teachers and principals.


The Best and Brightest program has faced opposition, at least in part, because it considers teachers’ scores on SAT or ACT college-entrance exams in determining eligibility for bonuses. The use of those scores has drawn state and federal lawsuits arguing that the program discriminates against older teachers and minority teachers.

During an event Thursday at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County, DeSantis also pointed to questions about the logic of looking at college-entrance exams in evaluating teachers.

“While there were some good things to that (Best and Brightest) and some teachers got some good bonuses, the way they did the program was not just whether you were a good teacher but then your SAT scores from going into college,” DeSantis said. “And a lot of folks didn’t think that that was necessarily the best way to do it because, quite frankly, that test is one moment in time and it’s not necessarily indicative of the passion … when you’re into the classroom.”

DeSantis said the new program could provide bonuses of more than $9,000 to nearly 45,000 “highly effective” teachers at schools that showed progress on grading calculations and bonuses of up to $6,500 for principals.

“What we’re trying to do is identify those teachers that are rated highly effective and that are helping their schools move forward,” DeSantis said. “And when they’re doing that, we think they should be rewarded.”

The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union that has been a fierce critic of the Best and Brightest program, issued a news release that said it sees DeSantis’ ideas “as a start toward fixing the discriminatory and unfair provisions of that bad legislation.” But it also suggested that higher salaries are the best way to attract and keep qualified teachers.

“There doesn’t have to be a revolutionary way to solve Florida’s problem with recruiting and retaining teachers,” Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram said. “We will be urging the governor and the Legislature to go one step further: We need competitive salaries for teachers and education staff.”

The governor’s proposed changes would require legislative approval during the session that starts March 5. The Best and Brightest program, which provides $6,000 bonuses to teachers, is in state law. House Republican leaders pushed for its creation in 2015 — a time when current Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran was the House appropriations chairman.

DeSantis last week released a proposed $91.3 billion state budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year that included $422.97 million for the new program.

Lawmakers set aside $234 million for the Best and Brightest program during the current year. In addition to considering performance on college entrance exams, the eligibility requirements for Best and Brightest also take into account whether teachers have been evaluated as “highly effective.”

Along with the new bonus program, DeSantis said Thursday he wants to provide $10 million a year for five years for a loan- and tuition-forgiveness program that would help recruit teachers. He said the program would provide aid to as many as 1,700 new teachers who commit to working in the state for five years.

“And the preference is going to be on areas of high need, and we have some areas of the state where the shortages are acute,” DeSantis said. “We have underserved areas. And so basically what we’re telling the folks is if you go to college, you rack up some of this debt, if you’re willing to do this and dedicate those five years, that we’ll be able to wipe that slate clean, up and to a pretty significant amount of money.”

The State Board of Education last month approved an annual report that, in part, detailed a shortage of certified science, English and math teachers in Florida’s public schools. Also, the report indicated schools that received “D” ratings for their performances over the past three years have higher percentages of out-of-field teachers than other schools.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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3 Responses for “Governor Seeks More Generous Teacher Bonus Program, But Is Silent on Higher Salaries”

  1. Lnzc says:

    Come on Governor what about the teachers who work hard long hours and some kids just don’t care,
    Our daughter teaches cooking and some kids really learn it for a trade, others for future family,
    She deserves a pay raise as well as other teachers.
    She goes to store at 6 am some mornings to get supplies or after school for supplies and works past quiting time cleaning up and getting ready for next day.

  2. Richard says:

    Very typical of a union to object to this program as it does not reward teachers who are slackers versus those who are REALLY contributing to the success of the school and students. If the base salary is raised for everyone where is the incentive to work harder? I support the “bonus” program as it ends up in the pockets of teachers who are exceptional versus those that only show up for a paycheck. Screw the unions as they have destroyed parts of American business in the past. Good for DeSantis!

  3. Olivia says:

    I’ve been teaching for 25 years, and I have yet to meet a teacher who only showed up for the paycheck.
    Most of the teachers going above and beyond for their students are the teachers whose spouses or parents (Yes, some still live with Mom and Dad) earn enough to allow them to invest extra time and money into their classrooms. The rest of us are working 2, 3, or 4 jobs to fill the gap between our salaries and our needs. We are too exhausted to give so much extra for an extended period of time. If you want motivated teachers, then pay them a living wage.

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