Education

Florida is one of the worst states for teachers, study says

Teacher Desiree Chase delivers a lesson about the different parts of the leg at MAST Academy @ Homestead on Thursday, April 6, 2017. A new study found Florida is one of the worst states to be a teacher.
Teacher Desiree Chase delivers a lesson about the different parts of the leg at MAST Academy @ Homestead on Thursday, April 6, 2017. A new study found Florida is one of the worst states to be a teacher. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

A new study supports what many local educators have long suspected: Florida is one of the worst places to be a teacher.

Florida ranks fifth from the bottom out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to a study from the personal finance website WalletHub, which analyzed data on a variety of factors including teacher salaries and pensions, turnover rates and public school spending.

While Florida ranks above average in some measures, like school system quality, average starting salary and friendliness to working moms, the state is near the bottom in others, including average teacher salary and pension, protections for veteran teachers, and public school spending per student. Florida also falls close to last in the strength of its teacher unions, according to the study.

Some Miami-Dade teachers said they were unsurprised by the study’s findings.

“I think it’s very true and it’s very, very sad,” said Vivian Taylor, a social studies teacher at Palmetto Middle School, adding that she expected Florida to rank even closer to the bottom. “Our cost of living is outrageous and all the prices go up and our salaries are stagnant.”

Local teachers have long complained that Miami’s high cost of living exacerbates salary woes. Florida’s education funding formula used to include a multiplier that factored in regional cost-of-living differences, making more money available for teacher salaries in expensive areas, but no longer does, according to school district officials. One recent study found that Miami was among the toughest places in the country for teachers to find housing they can afford.

United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernández-Mats said salary concerns make it hard for Miami-Dade to keep the best teachers.

“It’s just unrealistic to expect a school district of this size to attract and retain quality teachers with the salaries,” she said. “We have to fight every inch for issues other states have taken for granted.”

Some South Florida teachers have left the state after struggling for years to make ends meet. One former Miami-Dade teacher, Kelly Hobby, saw her salary jump from $45,000 to $64,000 when she moved to Georgia in 2016.

“It’s ridiculous. If you’re a teacher you cannot survive in Miami,” Kelly told the Miami Herald in April.

The problem isn’t lost on state lawmakers. The Florida Legislature set aside $100,000 in the 2017-18 budget for the education department to conduct a study looking at cost-of-living disparities across the state’s 67 counties, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the line item in June.

Experts say low salaries are one factor contributing to teacher shortages across the country. Although South Florida doesn’t have an official teacher shortage, the Miami-Dade school district started the 2016-17 school year with approximately 150 vacancies. Local teacher colleges have also reported drops in enrollment in recent years.

Mayade Ersoff, a social studies teacher at Palmetto Middle School, said low pay isn’t the only problem. Other factors, like large class sizes and pressures to teach to the test, also make the job difficult.

“There’s no incentive and you don’t get a feeling that anyone really cares about paying us more,” she said.

For teachers looking to move, the WalletHub study offers some suggestions. New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut and Pennsylvania ranked as the top five states for teachers. The worst-ranked states, in addition to Florida, were Mississippi, South Carolina, Hawaii and Arizona.

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