All Florida public school teachers would get a laptop computer, and math and science teachers would get extra pay, under a proposal announced Jan. 23 by Gov. Jeb Bush.
Aimed at luring about 30,000 new teachers to Florida schools and retaining those currently working in the state, the proposal calls for other inducements, too, such as more money for college loan reimbursements.
The $239 million package, backed by Education Commissioner John Winn and several key Republican lawmakers, will be presented this month to the Legislature for approval in the 2006-07 state budget. But legislative Democrats criticized the plan as a short-term solution that does not address base teacher salaries or pension benefits.
Under a $40 million grant program, school districts would submit teacher retention and recruitment plans to the state education department, which would match the funds. The incentives could include signing bonuses, housing assistance, and payment of student loans.
Bush also proposed that each district negotiate a pay scale, with those teachers in shortage subject areas such as math, science, and special education receiving more compensation. The differential also could apply to teachers who mentor colleagues or do work outside the classroom.
“If we have a shortage of teachers in math and science, we should pay those teachers more,” Bush said. “That’s as common-sensical as you can get.”
Mark Pudlow, spokesman for Florida Education Association, the state teachers union, noted that base teacher salaries and pensions were not addressed in the plan.
Florida is 29th in the country in average teacher salary at $40,598, which is nearly $6,000 less than the national average, according to recent figures from the American Federation of Teachers.
Teachers, though, say they like the idea of laptop computers. Bush said they would be paid for with $188 million in nonrecurring revenues from slot machines. The computers would allow teachers to complete paperwork, access a web-based system to communicate with other teachers, and receive student data and curriculum materials.
“Laptops in the hands of teachers will lessen the paperwork, and that is our No. 1 complaint,” said Polk County’s Samuel Bennett, this year’s Florida Teacher of the Year.