Architects have a magnificent way of designing plans and bringing their vision to life. The difference in quality planning, construction and vision can often be seen just after a big storm. When driving around South Florida after a hurricane you see well-constructed ornate buildings that withstood the tempest and other less sturdy edifices that have been battered from the recurring storms that impact our tropical paradise.
Our public education system can be figuratively compared to these battered structures. It is the poorly designed construction that is expected to withstand the repeated legislative storms without meeting the necessary standards to survive the battering.
For over two decades, Florida politicians have intentionally underfunded public education and as a result, we have had to survive on the cheap and make do with patch-work solutions. Professionals in the industry would describe it as being held together with “string and chewing gum.” This is epitomized by the fact that our resilient local public schools have been obliged to ask the local community to help fund basic building improvements so our children can learn and communities can assemble.
However, a few weeks ago, we heard Governor Ron DeSantis propose a slapdash plan to make our public education system more competitive and attractive to prospective teachers by increasing starting teacher pay to $47,500. For the record, we think it’s a good start and most people are hopeful that he will make good on his promise. However, the fact remains that he also left many unanswered questions, namely how we will properly compensate teachers who have already put in 10, 15 and 20 years or more.
While the Governor’s plan is impractical, he has initiated a conversation that has been long overdue. Our state has finally come to the realization that after decades of neglect, the consequences are real. We now have a self-inflicted crisis with a teacher shortage and a retention problem and it’s time that the architects responsible for this incompetent design start putting things in order.
More importantly, this conversation is a reminder that his Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, is not an education expert, rather a tainted politician who doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to help the Governor design a thorough plan that could conceptualize his goal.
This past Sunday, State Senators Manny Diaz and Jason Pizzo appeared on CBS’s Facing South Florida with Jim Defede to discuss education issues. Sen. Diaz supported our assertion that the Governor’s proposal is impractical and expressed a desire to reverse the Marco Rubio legislation that has cost Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) hundreds of millions of our tax dollars.
Additionally, both Senators recognized our success as an “A” rated district. Yet, as Sen. Pizzo so aptly pointed out, we seem to have become a victim of our own success. Rather than rewarding our teachers and students for a job well done, legislators continue to cut back on our resources.
We need more legislators to publicly acknowledge the fact that our teachers have excelled despite the obstacles that have been placed on us. According to the national report card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), M-DCPS has the best 4th grade reading and math scores in the nation. We are at the top, and our students are learning and thriving.
A more balanced approach to dealing with teacher recruitment and retention could be a simple 3 percent pay raise across the board for all teachers and support staff for a period of ten years. This would raise Florida’s education professionals from 47th in the country to the national average.
Common sense solutions like this require the Governor and legislators to sit down and have meaningful discussions with the educators and administrators of public schools. Unfortunately, they have been reluctant to seek solutions from the professionals who teach our children.
Now that the Governor has gotten splashy news coverage around his plan, our hope is that the teaching professionals can sit down with legislators and engage in a design process, akin to a well-designed building. Such a comprehensive approach to dealing with the years of Tallahassee neglect of our public education system would enable students in the entire state to thrive through educational equity.
Karla Hernández-Mats is the president of United Teachers of Dade, the fourth largest teachers’ union in the country.