$2,500 teacher raises? Unlikely, Florida lawmakers say.
$2,500 teacher raises are what Florida governor Rick Scott wanted, allowing a $2,500 pay boost for every classroom teacher. But Florida lawmakers settled on putting aside $480 million for teacher raises, but with requirements that some of it be tied to performance.
Tallahassee, Fla. — Fla. Gov. Rick Scott had maintained for weeks that legislators would "do the right thing" and agree to give every classroom teacher a $2,500 pay raise this year.
State legislative leaders had been just as insistent, saying it was unlikely they would go along with Scott's proposal the way he wanted.
On Sunday, House and Senate budget negotiators settled on setting aside nearly $480 million that can be used to boost teacher pay.
But the proposal will require that some of the money be tied to teacher performance instead of giving out raises to every classroom teacher. Legislators also plan to offer raises to all instructional personnel and not just classroom teachers. This is a move that could also lower the amount offered to each employee.
"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," said Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami and chairman of the House panel that oversees school spending.
Scott had made the across-the-board teacher pay raise one of his top priorities for the 2013 session. But legislators had signaled their reluctance with the proposal from the start. They maintained that it went against the idea of rewarding teachers based on student performance — a key element of the merit pay law passed in 2011 and is scheduled to take effect in 2014.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and chairman of the Senate panel that oversees school spending, brushed aside concerns that school districts may not be able to quickly implement a system to parcel out the $480 million by this fall.
"This is not something new for the districts," Galvano said. "We have been moving to merit-based evaluations for some time now."
Melissa Sellers, a spokeswoman for Scott, contended that lawmakers still have time to change their minds and avoid a confrontation with the governor.
"The governor has priorities. The Legislature has priorities," Sellers said. "There's still enough time left to determine how successful this session will be for all of us."
Legislators have until May 3 to wrap up work on a new $74 billion state budget that would cover state spending from July 1 until June 30, 2014.
This is the first time in several years legislators have had a budget surplus to work with.
And over the weekend they made progress on dozens of spending items — including sprinkling aside money all through the budget for projects ranging from $50 million for a new statewide multi-use trail to money to renovate historic lighthouse and courthouses.
But several sticking items remain, including whether to raise tuition rates for Florida's college and university students.
The House on Sunday backed off its initial six-percent hike and is now asking to raise tuition by four percent. Senate negotiators, however, have been holding firm to keeping tuition rates flat. Scott also wants to keep tuition rates as they are now.
Other items still up in the air: The size and scope of any tax cuts, how much to set aside for economic incentives, state funding for non-profit hospitals and whether to boost funding of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.