November 19, 2021

Florida Urgently Needs Bolder Investments in Average Teacher Pay

Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced his intention to continue investing in starting teacher pay in the 2022 legislative session. However, over the last few years, Florida’s average teacher pay has actually dropped in the state rankings. (See Table 1.) Meanwhile, the state is in the middle of a critical teacher shortage. An October report by the Florida Education Association found that there are over 9,000 staff vacancies statewide, including nearly 5,000 vacancies in teacher positions.

Teacher shortages well predate COVID-19 in Florida and elsewhere; however, the severity has been exacerbated by the pandemic. There are many factors that contribute to teacher shortages, including lack of investment in public schools, yet teacher pay is consistently associated with teacher retention. In one Florida example, researchers found that bonuses reduced the likelihood that teachers would leave public schools. This study also found that loan forgiveness and tuition reimbursement contribute to teacher retention. Additionally, the ability to retain educators has implications for the budgetary bottom line. It can cost as much as $20,000 for each teacher who leaves, for things including leave payout and recruitment of a replacement.

In school year (SY) 2019-2020, teachers in Florida were paid an average of $49,102, ranking the state 49th nationwide for teacher pay. During the same period, the national average was $62,355. Teachers in neighboring Alabama and Georgia were paid on average $54,095 and $60,578, respectively, during the same school year. In SY 2020-2021, Florida’s average teacher pay ranged from $40,383 in Gadsden County to $61,640 in Sarasota County.

Investments in teacher salaries are investments in children’s academic success. Teacher salaries are especially related to success for students of color and students in under resourced and high-poverty schools. Over the long run, increases in per pupil spending, which includes teacher pay, is associated with attaining more education, higher wages, and a decreased likelihood of living in poverty in adulthood. These gains are more pronounced for children living in families with lower incomes. Teacher pay is also associated with higher teacher quality, as higher pay attracts stronger candidates, and early-career teachers who are retained increase their skills and become better teachers.

This session, lawmakers should focus on increasing teacher pay overall, not just focusing it on new hires, though that is important, too. Allocations for teacher pay in 2020 and 2021 went primarily to raising the minimum pay rather than more equitably including veteran teachers as well. While the governor’s proposal to use $600 million toward teacher pay this year is a laudable one, a larger investment in increasing average teacher pay, not just new teacher pay, is key to addressing the teacher shortage crisis and improving education outcomes statewide.

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