Without attracting more great math and science teachers in our K-12 schools, Florida will not make any progress in its efforts to educate more strong scientists and engineers.
If the Legislature is indeed able to respond positively to the Governor’s call for a $1 billion increase in the K-12 budget, it should set aside $50 million of that amount to provide salary supplements of $5,000 for each of 10,000 teachers in critical needs subjects, including math and science.
The low level of teachers’ salaries is a serious issue facing the recruiting of math and physics teachers (for example, see this op-ed from the Orlando Sentinel). Outside of teaching, new bachelor’s degree grads in math and physics earn average starting salaries near $50,000, which is $10,000 or more above the starting salary for a teacher in Florida. Closing this gap by $5,000 would likely help efforts to recruit strong teachers in these critical subjects.
The districts are just not going to do this on their own. Differential pay for critical needs subjects has been authorized in Florida’s statutes for years (most recently in last year’s teacher employment bill), but to my knowledge no district in Florida has implemented such a plan.
The FLDOE could run the $50 million critical needs salary pool as a grant program. Districts would apply for the funding and the FLDOE would then respond to the proposal based on the district’s commitment – probably demonstrated through the district’s collective bargaining agreement – to faithfully implement a differential pay program.
Georgia has implemented a similar program. New teachers in math and science earn starting salaries $4,700 above new teachers in other subjects. Differential pay was easier to implement in Georgia than it would be in Florida because Georgia has a statewide salary schedule.
The differential pay grant program would work around the districts’ reflex to complain about unfunded mandates, while providing strong oversight to make sure that the state’s (and students’) interest in promoting better math and science education is addressed.