Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Elizabeth Djinis
By Elizabeth Djinis October 21, 2022

Despite pay raises, Florida's teacher shortage persists

When Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in 2019, there were almost 3,300 teacher vacancies in Florida public schools, and he promised to resolve the shortage. 

On his campaign website, DeSantis promised to "help recruit the best teachers," and work with the Legislature to "expand programs that incentivize top educators to teach in Florida." He also pledged to develop programs that incentivize and reward teachers in more demanding or specialized positions, such as teaching special needs students. 

DeSantis focused largely on raising teachers' salaries. When he took office, the average starting teacher salary for Florida's teachers was $37,932, according to David Struhs, senior legislative director for the Foundation for Florida's Future, an education advocacy nonprofit founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. By contrast, the average starting teacher salary in the nation was $40,154 for the 2018-19 school year, according to the National Education Association.

While in office, DeSantis successfully lobbied the Florida Legislature to provide funding to raise the minimum starting teachers salary to $47,500, raise pay for veteran teachers, and proposed a $300 million bonus program for teachers and principals. 

In August 2022, DeSantis announced a new state rule to speed military veterans' path to becoming teachers by offering them temporary teaching certificates without having to earn bachelor's degrees. (These are the same initiatives the Governor's Office pointed to when asked by PolitiFact about this promise.) 

DeSantis also implemented a grant program that provided up to $15,000 to teachers and administrators at low-performing schools and secured $1,000 in disaster relief payments for almost 177,000 Florida educators for the pandemic, per the state Department of Education. The latter functioned mostly as bonuses for teachers working to educate students in person during the pandemic.

But raising the minimum starting salary has created tensions with veteran teachers who find themselves earning little more than a new hire, said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state's primary teachers union. Education Department data from February 2022 shows that about 14% of state public school teachers are in their first year of teaching while 42% have 11 years of experience or more. Only 17% have been teaching for 21 years or more. 

"We literally have some districts where teachers in their first year are making as much as teachers in their 20th year of teaching in a district," Spar said.

DeSantis' office counters this, saying more than 76,000 veteran teachers received higher pay in the 2021-22 school year.

It's unclear whether DeSantis' policies have helped or harmed teacher shortages, which are a problem in many parts of the country. Several other factors have complicated teacher retention in Florida, including the difficulties of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic and the state's rising cost of living.

In August 2016, according to data from the Florida Education Association, there were 2,403 open teaching positions advertised statewide. By contrast, in January 2019, just as DeSantis' gubernatorial term started, the state tallied almost 3,300 teacher vacancies.

Teacher vacancies hovered around 3,200 in 2019-20 and almost 3,700 in 2020-21, Florida Education Department data shows. But by 2021-22, vacancies surged to almost 4,500, the department reported. Vacancies in exceptional student education, which includes a variety of special needs disciplines, rose from 866 in the 2018-19 school year to 1,321 in the 2021-22 year, state data shows. 

DeSantis' rhetoric has also complicated teacher attraction and retention, said Billy Townsend, a former Polk County School Board Member who writes a newsletter on Florida, education and politics. The governor has made teachers a frequent target, at least according to the head of a national teachers' union. At a recent press conference, the governor claimed there was "woke indoctrination in our schools." 

 Also, in 2022, DeSantis signed the "Stop WOKE Act," which although vaguely worded, essentially banned teachers from talking about gender identity and sexual orientation in elementary school classrooms, though potentially older grades, too. Gender equality activists dubbed the measure the "don't say gay" bill.  

"I don't know how making teachers your number one political foil is helping to reduce the teacher shortage in Florida," Townsend said. "I don't think that promise has worked out very well." 

It's still hard to say quantitatively how much any of this would have affected teacher retention. Struhs points to state data that shows over the last four school years, Florida's instructional staff has increased by more than 2,300 full-time members.  

Data from the state's Education Department shows teacher vacancies were up to 5,208, as of the first day of school in the 2022-23 school year. By Sept. 1, that number dropped to 4,442, around the same as the 2021-22 number but still an increase from when DeSantis took office.

Given that number, the vacancy rate per full-time instructional personnel in Florida public schools is at about 2.4%, a state Education Department spokesperson said. The national opening rate for educational services in August 2022 was 4.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

It's clear DeSantis worked to deliver on his promise to reduce teacher shortages. But the pandemic made education at the end of his gubernatorial term much more complicated. State data shows there are more teacher vacancies now, at the end of DeSantis' term, than there were when it started. 

DeSantis promised to reduce teacher shortages and address the problem, but the numbers show they have only increased. We rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

Florida Department of Education, Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas, Jan. 16, 2019

Email interview, Jeremy Redfern, deputy press secretary, Executive Office of the Governor, Oct. 14, 2022

Phone interview, Andrew Spar, president, Florida Education Association, June 22, 2022

Phone interview, Billy Townsend, former Polk County School Board Member, June 22, 2022

Email interview, Cassie Palelis, press secretary, Florida Department of Education, Oct. 21, 2022

Email interview, David Struhs, senior legislative director, Foundation for Florida's Future, July 1, 2022

Office of Governor Ron DeSantis, Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Pay Raises for Florida Teachers, March 21, 2022

PolitiFact, Foundation for Florida's Future

News Service of Florida, Florida's New Teachers Will Make $47,500 To Start After Governor Signs Pay Raise Bill, June 25, 2020

Office of Governor Ron DeSantis, Governor Ron DeSantis Announces New Florida Classroom Teacher and Florida School Principal Bonus Programs, Nov. 14, 2019

New York Times, How bad is the teacher shortage? Depends where you live, Aug. 29, 2022

WUSF News, The high — and getting higher — cost of living in Florida, June 4, 2022

Florida Education Association, Teacher and staff shortage, September 2022 

Florida Department of Education, Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas for 2020-21

Florida Department of Education, Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas for 2021-22

Florida Department of Education, Identification of Critical Teacher Shortage Areas for 2022-23

Florida Politics, National teachers union leader: Ron DeSantis targets teachers with 'demagoguing and fearmongering', Sept. 21, 2022

NPR, Florida Gov. DeSantis takes aim at what he sees as indoctrination in schools, July 13, 2022

The Hill, What is DeSantis's 'Stop WOKE Act'?, Aug. 19, 2022

The Guardian, 'It's had a chilling effect': Florida teachers anxious about 'don't say gay' bill, Aug. 31, 2022

Florida Department of Education, Staff

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 1. Job openings levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted

Florida Department of Education, Educator Disaster Relief Payments

Office of Governor Ron DeSantis, Governor Ron DeSantis Announces $44 Million to Support Florida's Most Vulnerable Students and Schools, July 14, 2021

National Education Association, NEA 2018-2019 Teacher Salary Benchmark Report, May 11, 2020

Florida Department of Education, Governor Ron DeSantis Presents Bay County Educators With $1,000 Disaster Relief Payments

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 8, 2019

Florida Gov. DeSantis proposes starting teacher pay increase

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a proposal to lift starting teacher salaries to $47,500, roughly a $10,000 increase.

If the Legislature agrees to that $600 million investment, it would place Florida among the highest-paying states for starting teacher salaries.

DeSantis said the higher salary would help the state's teacher shortage "and elevate the teaching profession to the level of appreciation it deserves."

Average starting teacher pay in Florida was $37,636 for the 2017-18 school year, according to the National Education Association. (The amount can vary by district.) That salary places Florida below the national average of $39,249 and in the middle of the pack of states.

Florida has long lagged behind the national average on teacher salaries, which contribute to vacancies. There were about 2,600 teacher vacancies at the start of the 2019-20 school year. 

Under DeSantis's proposal, about 101,000 teachers who earn less than $47,500 would be eligible for an increase. That's about 57% of classroom teachers in Florida.

Previous efforts to increase teacher pay have been focused on the Best and Brightest bonus program. DeSantis supported changes in 2019 to expand those bonuses. However, DeSantis has since knocked the program as "very complicated," and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed a bill to repeal it.

We asked a DeSantis spokeswoman if he plans to support repeal in order to pay for the increase. She said he is looking at all options.

While the Florida Education Association embraces raising teacher pay for early career teachers, it raised concerns that this proposal leaves out raising pay for more experienced teachers.

"If a brand new teacher earns $47,500 and somebody who has been here 18 years is making $48,000, does their 17 extra years or more not count for something?" asked Sharon Nesvig, FEA spokeswoman.

The teacher pay proposal by DeSantis awaits action by the Legislature, which convenes in January. For now we keep this promise In The Works. 

Our Sources

National Education Association, 2017-2018 Average Starting Teacher Salaries by State and Florida

Tampa Bay Times, Ron DeSantis unveils plan to raise starting pay for Florida teachers, Oct. 7, 2019

Tampa Bay Times, Bill filed to repeal Florida's teacher bonus program as DeSantis hints at new approach, Oct. 7, 2019

PolitiFact, Florida teacher pay lags national average, just not quite by $10,000, March 17, 2017

Email interview, Helen Ferre, Gov. Ron DeSantis spokeswoman, Oct. 7, 2019

Email, Sharon Nesvig, Florida Education Association spokeswoman, Oct. 7, 2019

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 11, 2019

DeSantis proposes expansion of bonuses for teachers

Gov. Ron DeSantis promised on the campaign trail that he would provide incentives to lure top educators to teach in Florida, including in more demanding or specialized positions.

The state Department of Education expects there will be about 10,000 teacher vacancies by the end of the 2018-19 school year. The challenge for Florida is how to attract teachers to a state that lags behind the national average on teacher pay, and how to retain the teachers already working here.

His pledge to make Florida more attractive for teachers is one of 15 campaign promises by the Republican governor we are tracking on our DeSant-O-Meter.

DeSantis took his first step toward this promise in February when he announced a proposal to increase funding for the Best and Brightest Teachers Program.

DeSantis called for $422 million in bonuses for teachers who receive a highly effective rating — that's up from $234 million this year.

The increase would mean that nearly 45,000 teachers would be eligible for $9,000 bonuses, up from the current $6,000. Also, principals would be eligible for $6,500 in bonuses.

Critics of the Best and Brightest program launched in 2015 say it doesn't address the most pressing needs in Florida. An Orlando Sentinel analysis in 2016 found it largely went to teachers who worked in affluent areas.

DeSantis said that his revision, which includes no longer factoring in the SAT/ACT scores of teachers, should lead to a higher proportion of African-Americans getting the bonuses.

His plan also includes $10 million per year for the next five years to launch a loan and tuition forgiveness program for as many as 1,700 new teachers per year who commit to working as a teacher in Florida for five years.

Some educators praised the idea.

"You put $9,000 on the table for a teacher? That's very significant," said Hillsborough school superintendent Jeff Eakins, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

However, the Florida Education Association, the teachers' union, said it would rather secure across-the-board raises. For decades, Florida has lagged behind the national average on teacher pay.

Florida's average teacher pay in 2017 was $47,267, in 45th place, according to the National Education Association.

A growing number of studies find a connection between incentive payments and teacher retention, said Matthew G. Springer, an education professor at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Springer. But there hasn't been much research on recruitment incentives.

"Retention bonuses have been found to retain educators, particularly in hard to staff subjects and schools," he said.

The Learning Policy Institute, an education policy research entity, found that research on loan forgiveness has found these programs are effective at attracting individuals into the teaching profession and particularly into high-need schools.

For now, the fate of DeSantis' plan is up to the Legislature, which is in charge of the state's wallet and may gave him some or none of what he wants. We'll keep watching to see what happens.

With DeSantis taking an initial step toward his promise, we move this to In The Works.

Our Sources

Learning Policy Institute, How Effective Are Loan Forgiveness and Service Scholarships for Recruiting Teachers? April 2016

National Educational Association, Ranking of the states in 2017, April 2018

PolitiFact, Florida teacher pay lags national average, just not quite by $10,000  March 7, 2019

Tampa Bay Times, Ron DeSantis announces $422 million increase in teacher bonuses under new program, Feb. 7, 2019

Orlando Sentinel, DeSantis has eyes on Fla. teacher retention, Feb. 8, 2019

Orlando Sentinel, Most top teachers at rich schools, April 17, 2016

Interview, Sharon Nesvig, Florida Education Association spokeswoman, Feb. 28, 2019

Interview, Meredith Beatrice, Gov. Ron DeSantis spokeswoman, March 7, 2019

Interview, Cheryl Etters, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, March 13, 2019

Interview Matthew G. Springer, education professor at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, March 11, 2019

Interview, Tim Sass, Professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, March 8, 2019


Latest Fact-checks