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Where’s my bonus?

August 5 update: Checks have begun arriving in mailboxes. Be on the lookout for yours.

We know you have questions about the $1,000 bonus for teachers that Gov. DeSantis has been talking about. The most common questions we’ve received as well as some additional information to place the bonus in its larger context are below. 

If you still have questions, you can call the Florida Department of Education’s dedicated hotline for bonus questions at 877-205-2972 or send an email to educatordisasterreliefpayments@fldoe.org 

Updated: When will I receive my $1,000 payment? 

Checks have begun arriving in mailboxes of those qualified for the bonus. Your check will come in an envelope like the one pictured below. The State Seal and the address for the Florida Department of Education will appear in the upper right return address portion of the envelope. The envelope will also contain a letter from Gov. DeSantis.

Any idea how much it cost the state to outsource the mailing of these checks to a private corporation instead of simply giving the funds to the school district to provide to teachers?

$3,519,100 was allocated for the time and bureaucracy necessary for the Department of Education to administer these checks.  

Who is eligible to receive the payment? 

 In the letter to school district superintendents, Commissioner Corcoran makes clear that districts should use Appendix K of the Job Code Crosswalk to determine which employees are “full-time classroom teachers.” With the exception of substitute teachers, individuals with an “A” in the “EFAA Job Category” column are classified as full-time classrooms teachers for the relief check. 

Though school counselors and media specialists are “classroom teachers” for purposes of the “Florida Teachers Classroom Supply Assistance Program,” the commissioner and Gov. DeSantis have decided they are not classroom teachers for purposes of the Covid relief check. 

UpdatedAre teachers who retired and/or resigned after the 2020-21 school year eligible to receive the payment? 

After FEA raised the issue of retired teachers being excluded, our members started pressuring the governor and several media outlets picked up on the story, the FLDOE has issued updated guidance!   

The new guidance does allow for teachers who retired or resigned to qualify for the bonus as long as they taught until the last day of the school year. 

What tax implications, if any, will there be for this check? 

We recommend you discuss this with a tax professional. When your check arrives be sure to store any correspondence that comes with the check in a safe place so you can provide the documentation to a tax professional. 

The general counsel of the Department of Education wrote a memo in which he argues that if the funds are considered to be “qualified disaster relief payments” instead of a bonus, then individuals might not face any tax burden.  

However, the memo also states that the Department of Education should “collect and maintain documentation noting the types and amounts of unreimbursed personal, family, living or funeral expenses that could be reasonably expected to be incurred by teachers … .”  

As of yet, we are unaware of any attempt by the Department of Education to collect such data. 

We cannot stress enough the importance of keeping any correspondence that arrives with your check and the importance of discussing these funds with a tax professional. 

Updated: I was on leave last year. Am I eligible to receive the payment? 

It appears so.  

Two full weeks after FEA posted our FAQ on the bonus program, the FLDOE has posted their own FAQ. The second question clarifies there is no minimum number of days a teacher must work in order to qualify.   

Updated: I moved districts. Am I eligible to receive the payment? 

In the FLDOE’s guidance they do not specifically address this issue, but it appears that teachers who moved districts will qualify for the payment so long as you taught in a district in Florida until the end of the school year. 

Updated: Can you provide the communications from the DOE to school districts regarding the bonus? 

 Gladly, on Wed. June 30 school districts received the following: 

I have concerns. To whom should those be addressed? 

 You’ll want to reach out to Gov. DeSantis at (850) 717-9337 or via emailTwitter, or Facebook.  

Talking points

  • This continues a disturbing pattern of Gov. DeSantis ignoring local control and bypassing locally elected school boards. Florida’s public schools need more freedom and autonomy in how they spend funds not top-down dictates from Tallahassee.
  • School districts have the ability to get these relief checks to teachers quickly. Delaying the receipt of the checks in order for Gov. DeSantis to put his name on the check is an act of political desperation.
  • DeSantis is trying to have it both ways. He has routinely criticized President Biden for the federal relief funds while simultaneously taking credit for spending the federal money.

The big picture, Placing the bonus in a larger context

No matter our race, income or ZIP code, one thing Floridians can agree on is that our schools should be a place where students are excited to learn and embrace new challenges as they grow to reach their full potential. The biggest stumbling block in the way of that goal right now is certain politicians who have chosen to withhold funds meant for our public schools. Florida ranks 43rd in the nation in per student funding for education, 49th in the nation in teacher pay and nearly half of all K-12 paraprofessionals makes less than $25,000 a year. Creating the schools Florida’s students deserve will take sustained long-term investments to right these wrongs. 

Heading into the 2021-22 school year, it looked like Florida’s schools were headed for even worse economic disaster. Federal stimulus funding, in the form of three separate relief packages, is largely responsible for shielding our schools from the negative economic impact from Covid-19 as originally feared. Unfortunately, much of the federal funding has yet to make its way to school districts. For purely political reasons, a large portion of the funding is being held by the Florida Department of Education instead of being sent to school districts as federal law intended. As the school year ends and students, parents and educators shift to summer learning programs to help students who fell behind during the pandemic, school districts still do not have access to much needed funds. It is shameful that Gov. DeSantis is placing his own political ambition ahead of needs of Florida’s educators.  

To make matters worse, the Florida Department of Education missed a June 7 deadline to submit a plan on how to use these federal funds support students and the safe reopening of schools. Florida’s failure to submit a plan in a timely manner has led to the United States Department of Education withholding billions of dollars from our state. While the state of Florida is withholding billions of dollars from local school districts, many school communities continue to have unmet needs, especially related to filling vacancies for teachers and education staff professionals. 

Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that even one of Gov. DeSantis’ proposed solutions to the teacher shortage – offering a $1,000 bonus to classroom teachers for their hard work and dedication over the past year – has been impacted by the state’s continued refusal to honor and support local control. If the Florida Department of Education would work with school districts and supply them with the federal stimulus funding, teachers could have already received their $1,000 bonus. Gov. DeSantis has held up these funds because he doesn’t want the districts to provide the bonuses. Instead, he wants to be able to send a bonus check with his signature to all classroom teachers in the state. Beyond the time delay caused by his vanity project of signing the bonus checks, Gov. DeSantis is also potentially creating a tax burden by distributing the funds directly to teachers instead of going through their employer to do so.  

It is important to note, though, that you still have great power.  The 2022 Florida legislative session will kick off with interim committee meetings this September. Now is the time to apply pressure to your locally elected officials to demand they recognize the importance of all educators and ensure that school districts have the funding they need to pay all their employees a wage worthy of the work they do educating the next generation of Floridians. In addition to fighting for more funding in the 2022 budget, there are concrete ways to push back against Gov. DeSantis failed bonus scheme. We’ve already seen several instances around the state of local unions and school districts coming to an agreement on bonus pay beyond the state-mandated bonuses. These locally negotiated bonuses are inclusive of the entire school community as opposed to DeSantis’s bonus plan which ignores everyone other than classroom teachers.   

The federal funds that will be headed to schools are a necessity, not a luxury. Absent these funds, school districts would be looking at massive cuts in services, meaning students would miss out on important opportunities including summer enrichment opportunities and vibrant arts and music programs in the upcoming school year. After this past year where educators sacrificed so much in order to continue to provide the highest-quality education possible during an unprecedented pandemic, it doesn’t seem too much to ask for our state leaders to stop playing games and to deliver the federal Covid relief funds designated for education to the school districts the funds were designed to help.  

 

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