Gov. DeSantis touts new statewide education initiatives at Jacksonville charter school

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz were in Jacksonville on Monday morning to unveil a number of new education initiatives that will be a priority heading into this year’s legislative session.

Speaking at Duval Charter School at Baymeadows, DeSantis said his priorities will be giving teachers more rights and decreasing term limits for school board members.

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DeSantis said he wants to increase money that will be allocated to teachers’ salaries from $500 million to $1 billion, but he also slammed local and state teachers unions and accused them of holding up that money.

DeSantis said he wants to make sure that school unions are not “exerting excessive influence.”

He also said he and the legislature will be proposing a series of laws they are calling a “Teacher’s Bill of Rights.”

“We want to make sure that teachers that are doing their job well are protected and are able to do that without fear of any reprisals. And so we will be establishing a new process for individuals to notify the state if a teacher’s rights have been violated and we will ensure that our Florida Department of Education can investigate those complaints very quickly,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis added that he is moving forward with a proposal that would also put an end to automatic deductions for teachers union dues.

“That’s your choice. If you want to do it, you know, send money, that’s fine. But, to have it automatically deducted when you sign an authorization form, they don’t even tell you how much is being deducted, you know, that’s not right,” DeSantis said.

Terrie Brady, President of Duval Teachers United, questioned why DeSantis is targeting teachers unions and not other unions like those used by police and firefighters.

“In Duval County, we have four or five other unions here that represent members in the exact same way. They do collective bargaining, they have dues deduction, they are a stand-alone, they represent grievances due process, all sorts of things. Maybe it’s because we are the largest, you know, that could that could be it, maybe it’s because we are politically active,” Brady said. “I do want to stress that no union dues are used for political activities.”

DeSantis also said he would like to see shorter school board term limits, lowering it from 12 years to eight years.

“I mean, the fact of the matter is you get in there you have ideas, eight years is enough to get your ideas and to see some of the successes or maybe things you may need to change. Some of the people that are there when you get in there for 20 years, you become entrenched. And so I’m a big believer in term limits across the board,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also encouraged candidates for the school board to be out front with their party affiliation, even though the state Constitution currently prohibits any type of party label on school board ballots.

“That had actually been construed as you can’t even tell people what you are, a federal judge struck that down a couple of months ago. But the reality is people should be able to run for office how they want to run for office. They have a First Amendment right to do that, they can identify with a party or not,” DeSantis said. “So they may work through a resolution to change it, but at a minimum, we want to embrace the idea that if you’re campaigning for these positions, you can identify yourself however you want to identify yourself.”

Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, issued a statement following the news conference.

“Gov. DeSantis continues to show that anyone who is not in lockstep with him will face his ire. Whether the target is Disney, an elected state attorney, school board members, school district superintendents or now our caring teachers and staff, his M.O. has been ‘do what I say, or else.’ At the Florida Education Association, we stand united to make sure every child’s education is full of excitement and love of learning that prepares them for college or the workforce. Attacks will not deter us,” FEA said.

“While Gov. DeSantis seeks to punish and divide, we seek to unite,” said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar. “We respect the voices of parents, teachers, school boards, administrators and students. All have a crucial role in providing our students with the best possible education, and students’ needs must be our focus. Our schools don’t need to go back to 1950; we need to move forward toward 2050. Florida’s students deserve strong public schools.”

FEA said while the governor touts “empowerment” and funding for teacher salary increases, Florida remains stuck near the bottom in national rankings for average teacher pay. FEA said due to a tangled web of laws and rules governing pay, teachers with years in the classroom continue to face an “experience penalty” that can leave them making little more than new hires.

UNCUT: Press the play button below to watch the full news conference Monday morning in Jacksonville with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz.

About the Authors:

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.

Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.