State Politics

DeSantis proclaims ‘year of the teacher’ in pushing for higher wages

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outlines his priorities and answers reporters’ questions in the annual pre-legislative session in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outlines his priorities and answers reporters’ questions in the annual pre-legislative session in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. dwilson@miamiherald.com

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that passing his proposal to give teachers a raise as well as requiring employers to verify their hires’ immigration status are two of his top priorities for the 2020 state legislative session.

It’s a pair of proposals that perhaps accurately symbolizes the governor’s approach to policy, which often includes red meat Republican issues as well as more moderate ideas that have pleasantly surprised some of his Democratic critics.

“This coming legislative session really needs to be the year of the teacher,” he told a roomful of reporters at the annual “AP Day” event, where the state’s top elected officials speak to the media. State lawmakers are scheduled to begin officially meeting on Jan. 14 to discuss and pass bills through March 13.

Earlier this month, DeSantis rolled out a proposal to make $47,500 the minimum base salary for all teachers in Florida, which he said would grant a raise to more than 100,000 educators and cost a total of $603 million annually.

Further backing the idea on Tuesday, DeSantis said the idea is key for teachers to be able to afford the cost of living in the state’s expensive cities and also for districts to be able to recruit teachers to rural areas.

However, the Florida House has already expressed skepticism at the pitch, with Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, noting that DeSantis’ agencies have made billions in requests and saying he is committed to suppressing state spending. Oliva was originally scheduled to speak at the event Tuesday, but his office canceled his appearance, citing an unintentional scheduling conflict.

DeSantis lightly pushed back on Tuesday, saying it is important to him that Florida rises in the national rankings for average starting teacher pay. Florida currently ranks around No. 26 for average starting pay, and this proposal would take the state to about No. 2. New Jersey is No. 1.

“I really do think we need to be much higher than we are,” he said. “Look, José is principled, he does not like spending money on anything and I respect the hell out of him. ... I’m going to work with the speaker.”

DeSantis also said that he would like to pass an “e-Verify” bill in 2020, which would require employers to check their hires’ immigration status. It was an issue DeSantis made a pillar of his campaign for governor, but the idea failed to pass the Legislature in 2019 and was traded instead for a bill that banned so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Proposing the topic again could mean the repeat of drawn-out, emotional debate over immigration that seized the Capitol over the “sanctuary cities” bill, which prompted protests during the 2019 session and debates that went into the wee hours of the morning.

He told the media that bill was a “big win” but that e-Verify “is the best way to help deter illegal immigration.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Democratic minority leader from Jacksonville, appeared after DeSantis and said the e-Verify bill “is proposing a solution for something that’s not a problem,” but said it emerged again this year as an attempt to “deliver on a campaign promise to the White House ... while doing detriment to our families.”

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