DeSantis uses teachers’ bonus checks for political leverage, critics say

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Florida public school teachers and principals are expected to receive $ 1,000 bonuses this year, and Governor Ron DeSantis has consistently linked his name to financial recognition.

So much so that his administration took steps to have the money delivered directly from the state, rather than going through the usual process of sending bonuses to school districts for distribution. Education and Economic Opportunities departments collect employee data and examine the logistics of cutting and mailing checks.

Critics of DeSantis speculated that the governor would attempt to have his signature on the payments – either on a cover letter or on the check itself. They suggested that politics was at stake.

“It is very reminiscent of Trump’s stimulus checks,” said State Representative Andrew Learned D-Brandon, referring to the 2020 federal payments to households that were delayed as Donald Trump. insisted on having his name on them.

“He’s cheating on him,” said Nancy Velardi, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, of DeSantis, who is a staunch supporter of the former president. “He wants this to be a political gesture to win votes. “

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran called such a criticism a baseless conspiracy theory.

“We’re trying to do this as a direct thank you… so they know we appreciate the great job they’ve done,” Corcoran said, mentioning that the state was also sending bonuses to first responders and others. members of the “COVID heroic group” that brought Florida through the pandemic.

Although the governor campaigned to give the bonus to workers, he added, DeSantis deferred to lawmakers to determine how to use federal stimulus funds. And the legislature passed the spending as part of a spending program that enjoyed broad bipartisan support, Corcoran said.

He downplayed the idea that the DeSantis administration takes credit for the money made possible by a federal package that no Republican has backed, noting Congress has passed stimulus deals under Republican leadership. and Democrats.

Regarding the signatures on the actual checks, Corcoran said, “I don’t think it matters.”

For leaders of teacher bargaining units, however, where the check comes from has consequences beyond appearances.

One of the main concerns is with tax forms and withholding taxes. District payroll departments have each employee’s income levels and other information on file, and are set up to handle all the paperwork, said Jim Ciadella, chief operating officer of the United School Employees of Pasco.

They don’t have to validate eligibility lists or create new systems, he said, where the state would have to recreate information because teachers and principals are not their direct employees.

On a web page called “Where’s my bonus?” “ the Florida Education Association said that check recipients could be responsible for paying additional taxes because only an employer can withhold taxes.

“School districts have the ability to get these teacher bonuses quickly,” the organization said on its site. “Delaying the receipt of bonuses so that Governor DeSantis can put his name on the check is an act of political desperation.”

State Senator Shevrin Jones, Democratic Deputy Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he had not heard of the state’s plan to distribute the checks. He called the move unusual and said if it was just politics, “It’s a bad idea.”

“Just give their money to the teachers,” Jones said.



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