Miami Herald: “Florida Influencers: Teacher pay ranks as top education issue of 2018”
Raising salaries for the tens of thousands of K-12 public school teachers across Florida is the most pressing education issue political candidates running for office in 2018 should focus on.
That’s according to the latest survey of the Florida Influencers — a group of 50 of the state’s leading voices in the political, business, academic and faith communities. Asked by the Miami Herald, Bradenton Herald and el Nuevo Herald to rank six education issues by order of importance, nearly six-in-10 of the Influencers put improving teacher pay at the top, while another quarter of respondents rated it second.
The Influencers argued higher salaries would encourage more people to become teachers and current teachers to remain in the field, resulting in better outcomes for Florida students.
“For too long, our state has occupied the bottom of the table in prioritizing the importance of this profession,” said Marlon Hill, a partner at the law firm Hamilton, Miller & Birthisel. “Like any other company or organization, your first goal as a leader is to take care of your employees through a starting salary reflective [of] their value, investments in their professional development, and creating an employment environment that nurtures innovation, creativity and a quality of life.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the salary for the average public school teacher in Florida in 2016-2017 was around $49,000, nearly $10,000 below the the national average.
Ahead of the 2018 elections, the Florida Education Association is pushing candidates for state office to pledge to boost teacher salaries to the national average over the next five years. So far, 20 Democrats have signed on, including four who are running for governor. Last week, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted in favor of developing language for a referendum on the November ballot that would raise property taxes to fund teacher salary increases. And Manatee County voters approved a similar measure in March.
The Influencers, who ranked economic inequality and education as the most important issues facing Florida this campaign season, offered some some additional solutions.
State College of Florida president Carol Probstfeld suggested that installing a year-round school schedule could provide teachers with a more consistent salary. Mike Fernandez, the chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, floated the idea of making a portion of the teachers’ salary incentive-based. And Bill Talbert, the president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, said public-private partnerships could help generate new sources of revenue.
“A broader use of technology, combined with greater engagement from private sector businesses … can help identify solutions for further cost savings and new sources of funding,” Talbert said.
Aside from teacher pay, 17 percent of the Influencers surveyed said reducing class size was the top education concern in Florida. The issues of charter schools and standardized tests only took a combined 12 percent of the first-place votes.
Readers, however, had a different view. Of those who participated via the “Your Voice” online tool, 33 percent said improving school safety was the most important education issue, while 31 percent pointed to teacher pay. Just 14 percent of Influencers chose school safety as their top concern.