DeSantis calls for teacher pay hikes, partisan school elections while attacking unions

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday called for another round of teacher pay hikes, while taking aim at teachers unions and calling for partisan elections and stricter term limits for school-board members.

Appearing at Duval Charter School at Baymeadows in Jacksonville, DeSantis rolled out a series of education proposals for the legislative session that will start March 7. A move from non-partisan to partisan school-board elections would require a constitutional amendment, with DeSantis backing the idea after he took the unusual step of supporting a slate of 30 school-board candidates last year.

"What we've seen over the years is you have counties, you know, in like Southwest Florida, voted for me by like 40 points and yet they're electing people to the school board who are like totally the opposite philosophy," DeSantis said.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who doubles as chairman of the state GOP, and Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, have filed proposals (SJR 94 and HJR 31) that would ask voters in 2024 to approve moving to partisan school-board elections.

DeSantis used Monday’s appearance to announce that he will ask lawmakers to add $200 million to a current $800 million pot of money to raise teachers salaries. The governor’s office said the average starting salary for teachers in Florida is $48,000.

"We think that that's important to both recruit and retain good people in the classroom," DeSantis said.

According to the National Education Association, the average starting teacher salary across the nation in 2020-2021 was $41,770.

The Florida Education Association teachers union, pointed to Florida laws and rules that it said often leave veteran teachers earning little more than new hires. It also criticized DeSantis for a "do what I say, or else" approach to education.

"Teachers and staff in our public schools struggle to pay rent, homeowners insurance and other bills because their pay is so low, just like so many Floridians," union President Andrew Spar said in a prepared statement. "Teachers and staff are leaving at an alarming rate, in large part due to the policies implemented under Gov. DeSantis."

Democrat lawmakers also criticized aspects of DeSantis’ proposals.

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said she had not seen details of DeSantis’ initiatives, but she called the funding request a "political move by a man who wants to be president and distract from the abortion discussion."