Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a raft of education bills into law Tuesday, including one that makes it harder for teachers’ unions to collect dues and to qualify to represent a bargaining unit.
The governor took the occasion of a bill-signing ceremony at a Miami charter school to blast the teachers’ unions, which have opposed him on numerous policy matters, including whether to keep schools closed to prevent COVID-19 transmission during the pandemic and require mandatory masking.
“These are political organizations that are not looking out for the interests of parents or the interests of students,” DeSantis said.
The bill (SB 256) bars public sector unions, including those for teachers but not for police or firefighters that tend to support the governor, from deducting dues from members’ paychecks, requiring employees to write checks instead. Furthermore, unions’ membership would have to constitute 60% of a bargaining unit, an increase from the old threshold of 50%.
Unions would be subject to state audits and investigations targeting waste, fraud, and abuse.
“They provide authorization forms, blanket authorization for deduction, automatic deduction of dues,” DeSantis said of the old dues-paying process.
“So, even though a lot of teachers don’t do it, many teachers feel pressured to do it. And so, what this bill does is it protects them and says, no automatic deduction for school union dues. If you want to join you can, but you write a check and you hand it over.
“That is going to lead to more take-home pay for teachers because they’re not going to have as many deductions in their paycheck. It’s also something that’s gonna allow the state to look at how many people are joining, and if you don’t have a sufficient number joining then that should not be the bargaining unit if you don’t even represent the majority of people.”
The Florida Education Association decried the move.
“It is painfully ironic that the governor would sign SB 256 during Teacher Appreciation Week. Gov. DeSantis gives a lot of lip service to supporting teachers, but he doesn’t want to hear teachers or staff, pay them what they’re worth, or give them the professional respect that they deserve,” FEA president Andrew Spar said.
“This time, similar to with Disney, we believe that the governor may have let his desire to crush perceived opponents get the best of him. Instead of a big company, however, the target is working people. This new law grossly oversteps in trying to silence teachers, staff, professors, and most other public employees. We will not go quietly — our students and our professions are simply too important,” Spar added.
Another bill the governor signed is HB 477, which reduces term limits for school board members to eight years. The Legislature enacted a 12-year term limit only two years ago. Democrats argued the change is designed to make it easier to remove sitting board members to make way for conservative allies of the governor.
Discipline and order
HB 1035 aims to eliminate duplicate professional training and strengthen teachers’ hand in maintaining classroom order. As DeSantis aides put it in a press release, it gives “teachers 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.”
“Used to be, of course there’d be order in the classroom — nobody would have questioned that. Now, some teachers think if they discipline a student, then somehow they’re going to end up being, people are going to go after them for just keeping order. So, we’re making sure that they have an ability to do that,” the governor said.
The new law creates an avenue for appeal if teachers feel they are directed to take actions contrary to state law and allows them to recover any attorney fees expended in that process. And it provides bonuses, including for retired first responders and military veterans who become teachers and creates an apprenticeship program for would-be teachers without college degrees.
Another measure, HB 1537, extends temporary teaching certificates to five years, instead of the three years allowed now, and extends eligibility to enrollees in state-approved teacher prep programs. Furthermore, it adopts the Classical Learning Test as an alternative to the SAT and ACT exams.
The test has been described as within the “great classical and Christian tradition,” as the Tampa Bay Times has reported. DeSantis beefed with the College Board, which administers the SAT and ACT, earlier this year over what he considered its “woke” advanced-placement course in African American studies.
It establishes “9/11 Heroes’ Day” each Sept. 11 and requires instruction for middle- and high school students on the events of that day.
House Bill 379 allows teachers to confiscate kids’ cellphones during class to discourage social media, which “does more harm than good,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want the kids on the phone the whole time while the teachers are trying to teach.”
Finally, the governor said he intends to approve budget provisos granting a $252 million increase in teacher salaries, for a total of $1 billion.
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