PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis is requesting the Florida legislature approve $216 million to provide $1,000 bonuses for principals and classroom teachers.
DeSantis made the announcement at Palm Harbor University High School in Pinellas County Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m proposing, and announcing, my request for the legislature to dedicate another $216 million from the third round of the ESSER funds so that we could do $1,000 bonuses for public school principals and classroom teachers for grades pre-K through 12,” DeSantis said. “This proposal will provide a bonus to more than 3,600 principals, and nearly 180,000 full time, classroom teachers.”
The proposal is similar to one DeSantis previously requested from the legislature for payments for first responders and law enforcement using American Rescue Plan Act money, the third coronavirus relief bill. But unlike the first responders proposal these checks for teachers would be funded from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency relief fund, or ESSER.
ESSER is part of a U.S. Department of Education grant program under the federal CARES Act with emergency relief funds to be used during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis did not mention virtual or online-only teachers in his request for bonuses.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran accompanied DeSantis for the announcement said the plan is for all teachers and students to be back in schools and virtual school funding would return to pre-pandemic levels.
DeSantis is asking the Florida legislature, currently still in session, to approve the bonuses soon.
“We’re asking for this out of the ESSER funds, and we’d like that to be appropriated during the session, so that we can get these checks out as soon as possible,” the governor said.
Florida schools are also preparing for the first round of in-person standardized tests amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some parents have said they plan to opt out of in-person testing to keep their students home due to pre-existing conditions.
Corcoran said the Department of Education will release detailed testing plans in the coming weeks.
“It’s going to be something that’s compassionate, that exhibits grace and puts the students’ interest and the districts’ interest at heart,” he said.
Several teachers spoke during the governor’s news conference echoing the need for student assessments.
Pinellas County Teacher of the Year Sarah Painter compared final assessments to finishing a race.
“We’re coming into testing season, we have assessments coming up, they are necessary,” Painter said. “No runner enters a race, crosses the finish line and doesn’t ask how they did. So this year, the assessments are so important because we need to know how we’re doing. And we need to use that to figure out our ‘now what’ for next year.”
Under a federal mandate all teachers, school staff and child care providers are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, however, school districts are not requiring staff to get the shots.
The Orange County Classroom Teacher’s Association said following the announcement that teachers are happy for the bonus, but it fails to address long-term priorities with education.
President Wendy Doromal said the $215 million could be used toward staffing shortages and retirement benefits.
“I would rather have it go to something lasting,” Doromal said. “We have a critical problem here in the state of Florida. We have rapid substitutes every single day to the tune of tens of thousands of positions.”
Doromal also said she’s concerned the bonuses won’t be sent to other support staff, who she said has had a rough year.
“It was everyone. It was media specialist, and guidance counselors and deans and nurses and bus drivers and cafeteria workers, so it’s not very clear,” Doromal said.