DeSantis has raised teachers’ expectations. Now he has to push Florida lawmakers to raise their pay | Editorial

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to give teachers a raise. It’s a good idea and long overdue in this state. But now he’s got to get out there and push for it. The Republican Legislature hasn’t been public-school teachers’ best friend over the years. It would have to dig deep to find the money to pay for those increases. And we know how much they hate to raise taxes.

DeSantis has said repeatedly that he wants to prioritize teacher pay in the 2020 legislative session, which kicks off in January.

He wants to overhaul the state’s merit-bonus system, targeting both teacher recruitment and retention.

His proposal raises the minimum salary for teachers by nearly $10,000, to $47,500, immediately affecting more than 100,000 of the state’s 170,000 teachers.

And DeSantis’ plan doesn’t forget veterans in the classroom. It would allow for bonuses for highly rated teachers. For Miami-Dade teachers who recently received raises, this would bring them close to parity with others across the country.

Kudos to the governor for righting this wrong, something we have not seen from Tallahassee in awhile.

DeSantis rightly recognizes that the success of the state’s students depends on having competent teachers who are well-paid and well-thought-of. Of course, improving public education in Florida requires more than just raising teachers’ salaries. But it’s a solid step forward.

Still, the governor’s plan gives rise to one burning question: Where’s the money going to come from? Where will the state find the $600 million for the governor’s initiative? The Legislature will surely balk at any hint of a tax increase.

An opportunity already is on the table. A bill filed this week by an influential Republican state senator proposes to repeal Florida’s “Best and Brightest” program for teacher bonuses, which bases eligibility on college-bound students’ scores on the SAT and ACT. The governor didn’t like it. Neither do we.

“It’s time to end Best and Brightest,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, told the Herald. “Its purpose, to attract and reward good teachers, is certainly laudable. In practice, it has managed to frustrate many good teachers with seemingly random outcomes and, ironically, it has made many good teachers feel less appreciated.”

During the 2019 session, the Legislature removed the SAT and ACT score criteria, but created a three-tiered system that still left out some high-performing teachers.

So Bradley’s Senate Bill 440 comes at a perfect time. Get rid of the already funded “Best and Brightest” and switch the money to the governor’s overhaul plan.

We know convincing the Republican-controlled Legislature to dramatically raise minimum teacher salaries won’t be easy.

DeSantis’ teacher-pay proposal is also a bellwether that the 2020-21 legislative session might be a battle between the governor and lawmakers, this at a time when the state’s economy is thought to be slowing down, producing less revenue for necessary initiatives.

We’re betting legislators will say No. But we’re also betting Florida’s governor will up his game and be a vigorous advocate for raising teachers’ salaries.

He’ll have to. After all, he has already raised their expectations.