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Solving Workforce Housing Crucial to Maintaining Florida's Edge in Education


According to Florida Department of Education data, the average teaching salary in our state is $51,166.57 annually. That ranks a lowly 48th nationwide. Despite modest pay and a highly politicized educational landscape, our state has continued to make strides in educational metrics. But those days might be over.

U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the Sunshine State ninth in the U.S. for K-12 education. However, if salaries remain relatively low while the cost of living continues to outpace increases elsewhere in the country, we could face a major crisis. Talented teachers, who are the backbone of our education system, might be forced to leave the state or the profession, leading to a significant loss in the quality of education.

The National Education Association puts the national average for teachers' salaries at $69,544. For decades, the disparity between what teachers earned in the Sunshine State and what they could make elsewhere had been largely overcome by a relatively low cost of living and its many attractive features, including a sub-tropical climate, world-class beaches and no state income tax.

However, the post-COVID real estate inflation has hit Florida much harder than most other states. This has rendered the notion that you could trade off some money for other quality-of-life perks less of a choice and more of an impossibility. The potential impact of this crisis on our teachers and the education system at large cannot be overstated.

In February, the median sales price for a single-family existing home in the state was $405,000, an increase of 3.8% from the same time one year earlier. During the same period, the median price for condos and townhouses rose to $320,000.

Many districts, including Manatee County, have addressed the difficulty of recruiting teachers by increasing starting salaries. Florida's average teacher's starting salary of $45,337 ranks 15th in the nation. However, while this tactic was largely successful, it could prove moot if what is beginning to appear to be a permanent inability to purchase a first home chases many young teachers out of the ranks. On average, teachers marry and form families younger than most college-educated professionals, making this dynamic even more critical to their quality of life.

This daunting reality and the absence of state initiatives have led many Florida school districts to look to develop living quarters for teachers. Pinellas County Schools has engaged a team of developers to convert a former junior high school into roughly 225 apartments. St. Pete Rising reported that 113 of the units will be reserved as workforce housing for school district employees earning 90 to 120% of the area's median income. Rents will range from $1,263 to $2,160.  The remaining 112 units will be available to the public at market value.

The Monroe County School District plans to build around 150 affordable housing units for teachers in uber-expensive Key West. Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach, is also looking to develop affordable housing for teachers, as are Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier and Martin counties.

While this is a positive step, it also signifies a reality in which—barring a major correction in prices—we are conceding that those who go into the profession of teaching are unlikely ever to realize the dream of home ownership, which has historically been the number one means for middle-class American families to build wealth. Better solutions would be to hold developers accountable for creating affordable housing stock in exchange for certain entitlements, including increased density. Manatee County already has such a policy—our county commission just refuses to enforce it.

Counties can also utilize tools that allow for home ownership and the accumulation of some equity, such as Community Land Trusts with Land Use Restrictive Agreements. These agreements essentially involve the county putting surplus land into a trust and allowing developers to build and sell houses on top of the land. The catch is that the land itself can stay in the trust into perpetuity so that the restrictions on its use stay in place.

The absence of land costs significantly reduces the total price of the homes, and the limitations on profits from future sales (which are typically limited to an annual percentage, with any sale amount over the limit returned to the trust) eliminate soaring inflation on those homes. The Community Housing Trust Fund of Pinellas County is a good example.

A strong primary and secondary education system is the lifeblood of an economy. If we simply throw our hands up and hope the problem will solve itself, we may well squander the impressive educational gains our state has made in recent decades. Given the numerous other challenges we can already see on the horizon, a collapsing education system is not something we can afford to ignore.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


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  • san.gander

    Everybody knows this Mitch. I and most of us who have no options to leave Florida for various reasons are telling our friends outside this "zoo" about poor opportunities for educators here... both on the academic freedom level and long term economic level. Thoughtful well educated parents of children in Florida who can afford it would be advised to find ways to supplement their kids education with tutors; and send their kids out of the state for higher degrees that will mean something.

    Sunday, May 26 Report this

  • WTF

    The school district should be exploring options for school district employees. A recent workshop did exactly that. They are considering partnering up with Mark Vengroff and his company One Stop Housing on 5 aces of vacant land at the 63/301 administration site.

    Every new school should set aside property for more partnerships like this. It’s done all over the country. With the new Board and administrator we will be moving in the right direction

    The May 24th workshop may be seen here https://www.youtube.com/live/L5KHoFncb2Q?si=21fODUMLz37Gez-n

    Wednesday, June 5 Report this