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.