The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Now it’s the teachers’ turn


OUR OPINION: The governor’s political motivations aside, a $2,500 pay raise for teachers is long overdue

Gov. Rick Scott’s idea to give every fulltime K-12 teacher in a Florida public school a $2,500 raise is well-timed — for his political future, yes, but also for the state’s educational system.

There’s no doubt teachers deserve a raise. The average teacher’s salary in Florida remains among the lowest in the country, at about $46,000 a year — $10,000 behind the national average.

Teachers’ pay wasn’t helped by the body blows the state educational system suffered in the last few years as tax revenues fell. More than $1 billion in education funding was cut during Gov. Scott’s first year in office, with some of it restored in his second year.

At last, the state’s economy is getting better, which gives the governor some wiggle room. For the first time in six years, there’s a $437-million surplus projected in the state budget. The money would nearly cover the teachers’ raise, which would cost $480 million.

Teachers definitely should be among the first in line for the surplus money.

The governor — who announced his proposal Wednesday at a Central Florida middle school along the vote-rich Interstate 4 corridor — has been heavily courting teachers in recent months, starting with a listening tour at schools last fall.

On the day of the announcement of the raise proposal, he tweeted: I am doubling down on our education investments in Florida.

Go ahead, triple down, too, sir.

But the political calculation is hard to overlook, and that undermines his message. With critically low approval ratings as he heads toward a reelection campaign and a possible challenge from former Gov. Charlie Crist, Gov. Scott would no doubt give a lot for the support of the teachers’ unions.

That’s a tough sell.

Teachers remain angry with Gov. Scott for a host of reasons that start with the gutting of the education budget during his first year and include signing into law a merit pay plan based on a teacher evaluation system linked to test scores. They’ve been further affronted by a law he proposed and got through the Legislature to require teachers and other public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their pensions — a requirement we believe is fair compared to the private sector and was upheld last week by the Florida Supreme Court. Teachers see that as a pay cut and the governor’s proposed raise simply as a way to help fill that gap.

Gov. Scott won’t have the final say on raises, by a long shot. The proposal will be part of his suggested budget for 2013, which then goes to the Legislature. And if the raises make it out the other side, salaries are still negotiated at the school district level.

Another consideration: There will be enormous competition for the surplus money from other cash-starved groups — and even from school districts as they seek to increase security after the school slayings in Newtown, Conn.

Nevertheless, teachers have been in line for a raise for a long time — longer than most county law enforcement and firefighters throughout the state whose pension benefits often are much more generous than what teachers receive.

The governor says the state had to make tough choices during the lean times. He’s right.

As education reforms have swept the state the past decade, teachers have been on the front lines, coping with every Tallahassee whim. It’s their turn to be compensated for their hard work.

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