Gov. Rick Scott will get the $480 million he wanted for education pay raises. But barring a last-minute change of heart by legislative negotiators, he will not get an across-the-board, $2,500 increase for classroom teachers.
The House and Senate agreed to set aside the $480 million during as part of a Sunday negotiating session on the education budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The fine print guiding how the pay raises are provided still has to be worked out, but the lead negotiators for both sides said that any pay increases would be decided based on merit.
The House had been pushing for more money without as stringent a requirement that the funds go to teacher pay raises — even though lawmakers would have made it very clear that they should. Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican lead negotiations for the House, said Sunday the final language would make sure the money wound up in the right place.
“I think at the end of the day, regardless of how you look at it, it’s going to be used for teacher salary increases, and it will have a methodology that includes merit to make sure that that commitment to merit recognition stays in place,” he said.
Not only have lawmakers long championed the idea of basing the pay raises on merit, lawmakers said the fact that all instructional personnel would be included in the House and Senate raises — instead of just classroom teachers — means a $2,500 across-the-board raise wouldn’t be covered with the $480 million.
Scott has openly touted the pay raise as one of his two priorities for this year’s legislative session, the other being a sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment. The governor’s office issued a terse statement following the meeting.
“The governor has priorities. The Legislature has priorities. There’s still enough time left to determine how successful this session will be for all of us,” said Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers.
Scott has said repeatedly that he believes that the increase should be across the board, though he dodged a question Wednesday on whether he would sign a budget that used merit as basis for the increase.
“Well, I’m confident the House and the Senate will do the right thing,” he said. “I’ve never talked about what type of budget I will and won’t sign.”
Districts have complained, most recently at a meeting with Scott on Wednesday, that merit increases could complicate efforts to negotiate contracts with local unions in time for the school year.
But Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and lead negotiator for his chamber, brushed those gripes aside — noting that merit pay will be required in the 2014-15 school year.
“There’s legislation that’s been enacted,” Galvano said. “It’s out there. This is not something new for the districts.”
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida