For the last several years, the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program has provided “signing bonuses” of about $7,000 for nearly all new FSU graduates who have gone on to teach math and science in Florida’s public schools after graduation.
The Florida Legislature just reduced the signing bonus amount for new FSU grads going into math and science teaching to $4,000. Will that hurt the recruiting of math and science teachers? That remains to be seen. But it will not help.
Florida’s program of large (about $7,000 each) teacher bonuses required relatively high SAT or ACT scores to qualify – a provision that was controversial from the day it was passed by the Legislature. Nearly all students who entered FSU as “FTIC’s” (First Time In College – what we used to call freshmen in the pre-Advanced Placement days) had SAT or ACT scores well above the minimum for the $7,000 bonuses, which were awarded to first-year teachers who completed a year on the job and whose SAT or ACT scores were high enough.
The omnibus education bill sent to Governor DeSantis’ desk by the Legislature, SB 7070 (which also included the Family Empowerment Scholarship program), made significant changes to the state’s teacher bonus programs. The teacher bonus program that required fairly high SAT or ACT scores for eligibility has been terminated. In its place is a new program that provides $4,000 signing bonuses for new teachers in math, science, reading and civics (with no SAT/ACT condition for eligibility).
Of course, while new FSU graduates who are becoming math or science teachers will have smaller signing bonuses than those who did so a year or two before, the situation is worse for 2019 FSU graduates who are going to teach subjects that aren’t math, science, reading or civics. For example, a 2018 graduate of FSU whose SAT or ACT score was high enough and who went on to teach English during the 2018-19 school year will receive the same bonus of about $7,000 as those who taught math or science. But a 2019 FSU graduate who teaches English at a Florida public school next year will not receive a signing bonus at all.
Of course, it’s not clear that the $7,000 signing bonuses were improving the recruiting of math and science teachers, anyway. The numbers of individuals taking and passing the state’s Math 6-12 teacher certification exam – a measurement of the number of new math teachers entering the profession – have continued to decline despite the Best and Brightest signing bonuses. (See graph below)
During the last several years, Georgia State University researchers have published studies of two programs of financial incentives intended to recruit and retain math and science teachers. One was a loan forgiveness program in Florida that was cancelled after the recession. The other was a Georgia program of bonuses in each of the first six years on the job. Both the Florida and Georgia programs provided about $20,000 to a math or science teacher who made it through five or six years of teaching. The researchers demonstrated that the programs made it more likely that a teacher would stay on the job long enough to earn the full value of the program, but they could not say that the programs helped recruit new teachers into the profession in the first place.
What would it take to attract more strong college graduates into math and science teaching? Probably the same things that would attract anyone to any job. Young people want to have the resources necessary to pay off their student loans and live decent lives. They want to have the option of starting families. They want to have the opportunity to succeed in their careers, and they would like their successes to be recognized.
It seems unlikely that the modest bonuses included in SB 7070 will draw more FSU students – and students from other institutions like UCF – into teaching careers. So once more, the responsibility for confronting the state’s teacher shortage will fall to the school districts. The districts have a real challenge ahead of them.