Our Viewpoint: Teacher pay should match cost of living – Opinion – Daily Commercial
Educators shouldn’t have to take second and third jobs to be able to afford to live in the communities where they teach.
But Florida’s teachers aren’t making enough to afford housing in nearly every one of the state’s 67 counties, according to a recent analysis by USA TODAY Network reporters. The analysis looked at the median income for teachers and median rent in those counties.
It found that in all but three counties — Escambia, Leon and Putnam — teachers would have to spend more than 30% of their salaries to cover rent. That percentage is the maximum amount that experts recommend budgeting for housing costs.
In Polk County, the percentage skewed well upwards to nearly 40%.
As a result, teachers are forced to spend their spare time working other jobs to afford housing and additional expenses. The USA TODAY Network report included the example of Sarasota County chemistry teacher Jen Stringer, who spends her spare time waitressing, tutoring, proctoring practice SAT classes and renting rooms in her house.
“The love of my life is teaching, but I can’t keep doing it,” she said. “It is ridiculous.”
Florida teachers make an average of $48,168 annually, which ranks 46th in the country. The comparatively low pay contributes to turnover and unfilled positions as teachers leave for other states or exit the profession entirely.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has recognized the problem, calling on the Legislature to make 2020 “the year of the teacher.” He proposed spending $600 million on raising starting salaries for teachers to $47,500 annually, which would bring Florida to No. 2 in the nation, and another $300 million on a revamped teacher bonus program.
State lawmakers wisely ditched a bonus program that had been riddled with problems to instead focus on providing raises. House and Senate budget negotiators initially agreed to spend a total of $500 million on raises for new teachers as well as veterans of the profession, which is more equitable than only rewarding newcomers.
The amount is obviously lower than the $900 million that DeSantis proposed, but is a good start to bring Florida’s teacher salaries out of the bottom of national rankings. The coronavirus outbreak’s economic impact has caused lawmakers to reconsider some spending, but hopefully they keep raising teacher pay as a priority.
Lawmakers also agreed to use all of the $370 million in the Sadowski housing trust fund to pay for the affordable housing programs for which the money is intended. Lawmakers had made a bad habit in previous years of raiding the money for other uses.
As part of the USA TODAY Network report, The Ledger’s Kimberly Moore introduced Rebecca Walters to readers. Walters, 37, had taught in Polk County Public Schools, off and on, since 2006, but in January, she took a tutoring job that pays less than her teacher’s salary in order to spend more time with her husband and two children.
“I wouldn’t say pay is the only reason I quit — time is very valuable to me,” Walters said. “I couldn’t keep up with grading papers and that. Planning periods were being taken away and I was having to bring a lot of work home – I have kids, so I felt bad.”
More must be done to recruit and retain teachers by improving compensation as well as reducing onerous state mandates and other conditions that make the job harder. Hopefully “the year of the teacher” begins a decade in which the Legislature gives teachers the pay and treatment that they deserve.
The original version of this editorial was published by the Gainesville Sun.