May 6, 2024 - News

Florida falls short in teacher pay, national study finds

Illustration of a very large pencil filling out a check.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A new report by a national education group ranked Florida 50th in the country for teacher pay and 16th for starting teacher pay, undermining Gov. Ron DeSantis' claim that Florida "is the No. 1 state in the country for education."

  • In the 2022–23 school year, the average teacher salary in the state was $53,098, per the report.

Why it matters: While DeSantis and other officials have cited recent teacher salary increases in dubbing Florida the "Education State," the National Education Association's numbers paint a starkly different picture.

In a statement to WTXL in Tallahassee, the Florida Department of Education called the report "bogus." The agency did not respond to Axios' request to provide numbers it considers accurate.

By the numbers: The DeSantis administration says it has allocated more than $4 billion for teacher salary increases since 2020.

  • In 2020, lawmakers allocated $500 million of the state's budget to increase teacher pay across all districts to $47,500, or as close to it as possible.
  • DeSantis is expected to approve another $200 million for teacher pay when he signs the state budget, while maintaining the $1 billion provided for salary increases last year.

Friction point: Still, educators say the increases aren't enough to help Florida compete with other states — or ensure teachers can make ends meet.

  • The $4 billion total allocation figure is "an extreme misnomer" that gives the state credit each year for maintaining past years' salary increases, Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, tells Axios.
  • "They've not invested a fair amount of money," Spar says.

Case in point: Much of the allocations have gone to increasing starting teacher salaries, which many educators say leaves veteran teachers making similar or lesser salaries than first- or second-year teachers.

  • "They are right when they say they've increased starting teacher pay. That's true," Spar says. "But we're second to last in average teacher pay and [that's because of] salary compression."

What they did: Many districts, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools, have turned to residents to increase property taxes to boost teacher pay and support school safety.

  • Voters in November approved increasing their property tax rate for schools from .75 to 1.0 to generate $400 million over the next four years, with 88% going to teacher compensation.

What they're saying: In its statement to WTXL, the education department blamed teachers unions, writing, "when the union gets involved in salary negotiations, teachers lose out."

The other side: For Crystal Etienne, a teacher at West Homestead K–8 Center, that rationale "doesn't make sense."

  • "How do you control the purse strings to what teachers make and then blame the teachers union for the low salaries?" she tells Axios.

Bottom line: The state's dip in standing comes as districts across the state struggle to recruit and retain teachers — and Florida's low ranking by the NEA "can't help," Etienne says.

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