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DeSantis touts education proposals that include replacing standardized testing

 Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown last year, released education spending proposals Wednesday.
News Service of Florida
Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown last year, released education spending proposals Wednesday.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday rolled out parts of his proposed education budget for next fiscal year, touting the recommendations as “wins for families, students and for teachers.”

The governor will ask lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session to raise per-student spending in public schools by more than $200 over the current fiscal year, to $8,000 a student.

DeSantis also wants to spend $15.5 million to carry out a plan that would replace the statewide standardized tests known as the Florida Standards Assessments with a progress-monitoring system. DeSantis announced in September that he would request that lawmakers end the current system of standardized testing.

“That will be recurring funding because the progress monitoring tools are more interactive, they’re more nimble. They provide more feedback in ways that are helpful for parents, teachers and for students,” DeSantis said.

Continuing a plan to boost minimum teacher salaries to $47,500, DeSantis said he will recommend that lawmakers earmark $600 million to increase educator pay. That amount would represent an additional $50 million in teacher-pay funding from the current budget.

“When I became governor, the average minimum salary was around $40,000. Now it’s close to $47,000. And with our proposal, we’re going to be in a really, really good spot. Certainly one of the top 10 in the country (in teacher pay), and we may even be in the top five in the country,” DeSantis said during a news conference Wednesday at a Jacksonville charter school.

Florida has grappled with teacher shortages, and boosting minimum pay has been billed as a way to help recruit educators. The Florida Education Association teachers union reported nearly 5,000 teaching vacancies at the beginning of this school year, based on a survey of school districts’ websites.

The union Wednesday cast doubt on DeSantis’ plan to raise starting teacher pay as a way to fix the teacher shortage.

“For the 3rd year in a row, (DeSantis) has announced he plans to recruit teachers by raising starting pay. If that worked, it would've worked. Two years into his initiative, FL has seen an exodus of teachers leaving 100s of thousands of students w/o a highly qualified teacher,” the teachers union said in a Twitter post.

DeSantis in the coming weeks will release a full budget proposal for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, which will start July 1. Lawmakers will use that proposal as a starting point as they craft a spending plan during the legislative session that starts in January.

The proposals released Wednesday also included a plan to again provide one-time, $1,000 bonus payments to teachers and principals. Such bonuses were distributed to about 177,000 teachers and principals this year using federal stimulus money.

“Those $1,000 bonuses, I think, are very meaningful, and I think it’s something that we want to continue to do,” the governor said.

DeSantis also is looking to spend $421 million on school safety and mental health initiatives, including money for school-hardening grants and security at Jewish day schools.

An additional $534 million would go toward strengthening workforce development programs at school districts and state colleges.

In higher education, DeSantis is asking lawmakers to continue “holding the line” on university tuition by preventing increases.

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Ryan Dailey - News Service of Florida