DeSantis touts ‘Teacher Bill of Rights’ as he signs 5 education bills Tuesday in Miami

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed five bills at a news conference Tuesday in Miami. (WJXT)

In what he called a “landmark package of legislation to support and empower Florida’s teachers,” Gov. Ron DeSantis signed five education bills Tuesday morning at a news conference with state leaders in Miami.

DeSantis also announced during the news conference that he will approve more than $1 billion for teacher pay in this year’s budget, a $252 million increase over the current record.

DeSantis said the goal is to be able to recruit new teachers to the state.

“We were in the bottom half of states for average minimum salary, now we’re in the top 10 states for average minimum salary,” DeSantis said. “We’re excited about that.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference in Miami. (WJXT)

DeSantis also said he will sign the record $26.7 billion lawmakers approved for the Florida Education Finance Program, an increase of $2.2 billion over the current year.

“Since I’ve become governor, we actually have $1,000 per student than we did in 2019,” DeSantis said. “Even as we’ve expanded private choice and charter programs, all this stuff, you still have really significant financial support -- unprecedented financial support -- for our public schools.”

Additionally, as part of the General Appropriations Act, the governor said he will sign:

  • $10 million for the Heroes in the Classroom Bonus Program (HB 1035).
  • $3.5 million for the Dual Enrollment Teacher Scholarship Program (HB 1035).
  • $4.0 million for the Teacher Apprenticeship Program and Mentor Bonus (HB 1035).
  • $5.0 million for the Grow Your Own Teacher Registered Apprenticeship Program Expansion.

Here’s a breakdown of the five bills the governor signed on Tuesday, including an eight-year term limit on county school-board members, restrictions on public-employee unions -- including teachers unions, and a bill that gives teachers the authority to establish classroom rules on cellphone and device use during instructional time.

Senate Bill 256

  • Prohibits teachers’ unions from using government resources to have dues deducted directly from employee paychecks.
  • Requires unions to notify members of the costs of membership.
  • Requires a union to represent at least 60% of employees – increasing from the current 50%.
  • Allows state investigations into unions suspected of fraud, waste, and abuse.
  • Requires annual audits and financial disclosures for unions.
  • Prohibits any union from offering anything of value to a public official in collective bargaining negotiations.

Workers for Opportunity, which has lobbied for the legislation for years, praised DeSantis on Tuesday.

“This bill gives Florida teachers a voice and a choice,” said Senior Labor Policy Advisor Vincent Vernuccio. “Teachers and other public workers will know their rights. They’ll know exactly how much union membership costs them each year. And they’ll know that, if their union isn’t serving them, they can do something about it.”

Workers for Opportunity said the legislation drew from its proposed reforms giving employees more control over their paychecks and union representation.

House Bill 477

  • Reduces term limits from 12 to 8 years for school board members – the same term limits the Governor, Cabinet, and the entire Legislature are subject to.
  • The Legislature also passed Joint Resolution 31, which will go directly onto the November 2024 General Election ballot, to return school board elections to transparent, partisan elections. District school board members have been elected in nonpartisan elections since 2000 but were elected in partisan elections prior to that year.

House Bill 1537

  • Extends temporary teaching certificates from three years to five years.
  • Improves the overall quality of Florida’s teacher preparation programs by eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic requirements from certification and alternative certification programs.
  • Requires a system-wide shift from professional development to professional learning, including requiring the Department of Education to create a high-quality programs web-based marketplace.
  • Expands eligibility for temporary teaching certification to candidates who are currently enrolled in state-approved teacher preparation programs.
  • Additional provisions in the bill include:
    Declares September 11th to be “9/11 Heroes’ Day” and requires 45 minutes of instruction for middle school and high school students on the events of 9/11.
    Makes Florida the first state in the nation to formally adopt the Classical Learning Test as an alternative to SAT and ACT for schools to offer to students to earn postsecondary scholarship funding to state colleges and universities (Bright Futures) and establish concordant scores for graduation.

House Bill 1035

  • Creates Chapter 1015 in Florida Statutes to codify the “Teachers’ Bill of Rights.”
  • Takes a stand for teachers’ efforts to preserve safety and order in their classrooms by giving teaches the benefit of the doubt when breaking up fights, preventing assaults, and giving teachers the presumption of acting lawfully, acting on behalf of their personal safety, and the safety of their students.
  • Gives Florida teachers an avenue to report if they have been directed to break the law by their administration or school board.
  • Establishes the Heroes in the Classroom Bonus Program to provide a one-time sign-on bonus to retired first responders and veterans who become a full-time classroom teacher.
  • Establishes the Teacher Apprenticeship Program and Mentor Bonus as an alternative pathway for individuals to enter the teaching profession and authorizes a temporary apprenticeship certificate.
  • Establishes the Dual Enrollment Educator Scholarship Program to assist Florida public high school teachers in obtaining the graduate degree and credentials necessary to provide dual enrollment coursework directly to students on high school campuses.

“Teachers have a right to teach in an orderly and safe classroom,” DeSantis said of signing HB 1035.

He said they should have the right to ensure discipline both for their own sake and the sake of other students learning in the classroom.

“Teachers think if they discipline a student that people are going to go after them for just keeping order,” DeSantis said. “So we’re going to make sure that they have an ability to do that.”

House Bill 379

  • Takes social media out of the classroom and TikTok out of our schools.
  • Gives teachers the authority to establish classroom rules on cell phone use during instructional times and allows them to withhold a student’s phone if it is a disruption in the classroom.
  • Requires district school boards to implement website filtering to prevent students from connecting to social media sites while using a district owned computer or server.
  • Prohibits the use of TikTok on district owned devices.
  • Requires schools to give instruction on the harmful effects of social media.

“Put those devices down and live life normally, and think we’re going to be so much better off,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis was joined at the news conference at True North Classical Academy by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, House Speaker Paul Renner and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, among others.

“Through these pieces of legislation, we are providing educators competitive compensation, professional development and instructional supports, flexible pathways into the profession, and the tools for our teachers to maintain order in the classroom,” Nuñez said. “As a mom, I’m particularly grateful for the Governor and Legislature’s focus on getting social media out of the classroom and giving teachers the benefit of the doubt when maintaining safety in the classroom.”

About the Author:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.