- Florida legislators have introduced a bill to expand Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) eligibility for school personnel, such as teachers, school nurses, administrators, and bus drivers.
- The proposed legislation aims to eliminate the time constraint connected to DROP eligibility and provide the opportunity for re-employment without affecting retirement benefits.
- The state of Florida is currently facing a significant shortage of teachers and support staff, with vacant teaching positions increasing by 21 percent compared to last year and more than 200 percent since 2018, according to the Florida Education Association.
In an attempt to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage, Sen. Victor Torres and Rep. Rita Harris, two Central Florida Democrats, introduced legislation on Friday to expand Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) eligibility for school employees and personnel.
Senate Bill 896 and House Bill 905 aim to eliminate the time constraint connected to DROP eligibility, while granting school personnel, such as teachers, school nurses, administrators, and bus drivers, the opportunity to opt for re-employment without affecting their retirement benefits.
Under current state law, school employees who participate in the DROP program are not eligible to be re-employed by any entity that participates in the Florida Retirement System until they have been retired for at least six calendar months.
“Florida is dealing with a staff shortage in their schools, and it’s not only a shortage of teachers, but it’s also a shortage of support staff like bus drivers, school counselors, and even school nurses and in fact, retired faculty also can’t even come back to volunteer at a school,” said Harris. “This bill would allow retired school staff to come back into employment and fill the staffing gap to ensure Florida students aren’t waiting on the side of the road for a bus, or not able to access a guidance counselor at school.”
DROP is a retirement plan offered to eligible Florida teachers who are members of the Florida Retirement System. The program allows teachers to retire and begin accumulating retirement benefits while still continuing to work for up to 60 months. To participate in the program, teachers must have completed at least six years of creditable service.
Teachers who participate in the DROP program will begin to accumulate their retirement benefits in a special account, which will earn interest at a rate of 1.3 percent per year. When the teacher retires, they receive a lump-sum payment of the accumulated DROP benefits in addition to their regular retirement benefits.
During the 60-month period, teachers will continue to receive their regular salary while they work, but they will not be eligible for salary increases, promotions, or tenure.
“The DROP program provides options for all Florida State Retirement System employees to supplement their financial retirement benefits and plan for their final retirement employment date,” added Torres. “These school employee personnel who are currently excluded should be able to access the same benefits as all other FRS employees.”
Vacant teaching positions in Florida have risen 21 percent compared to last year and more than 200 percent since 2018, according to the Florida Education Association (FEA).
FEA President Andrew Spar stated that following a review of each Florida school district’s website, there are 5,294 teacher vacancies and 4,631 support staff openings posted.
“Nearly 10,000 total vacancies in Florida’s public schools. Florida must address this massive teacher and staff shortage,” said Spar.
The shortage is particularly acute in certain subject areas like science, math, special education, and English as a second language, which has led to larger class sizes and a lack of qualified teachers in schools.