DeSantis touts increasing teacher pay by another $200M, takes jabs at Miami-Dade union

Miami Herald | By Alexandra Glorioso | June 10, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis in a Monday Hialeah press conference boasted about increasing the budget for teacher salaries by nearly $202 million this year. He took advantage of the moment to launch a few attacks on the local teacher’s union, United Teachers of Dade.

The local teachers’ union representing 27,000 members is struggling to remain certified after the Republican-controlled Legislature last year passed a bill, SB 256, eliminating automatic deductions from members’ paychecks while also increasing the required threshold of paying members from 50 to 60%. This year, the Legislature also required in SB 1746 dues-paying members to fill out a membership form. Both laws are being fought in federal court on constitutional grounds by the Florida Education Association.

The United Teachers of Dade is one of over 100 local educational unions in the state to not meet the new threshold requirements, triggering a recertification vote under the new law, according to the Florida Education Association. That vote will be conducted by mail and is scheduled for Aug. 13 through Sep. 24. In that election, members will have the choice of representation by either United Teachers of Dade, the Miami-Dade Education Coalition, or no representation.

The Miami-Dade Education Coalition is reportedly backed by the conservative think tank, Freedom Foundation, headquartered in Olympia, Washington.

“I know there’s a decertification battle here in Miami-Dade and all I can say is that old union in Miami-Dade fought tooth and nail to keep kids locked out of school. They did not want kids in person during Covid,” DeSantis said. “And they’ve worked really hard to push a political agenda, which is not what we need in our schools.”

DeSantis added: “You don’t need them to raise pay. We’re raising pay in spite of those unions, not because of them.”

Anna Fusco, president of Broward Teachers Union, said the pay increase was needed, but still leaves gaps. “The new teacher salary is increasing which leaves the veteran teachers and support staff at a stand still,” she said.

The governor also took a direct jab at United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats, claiming she makes almost $300,000 a year. Hernandez-Mats, who was on former Gov. Charlie Crist’s ticket when he challenged DeSantis in 2022, later said in a statement that she makes $181,723.

During a press conference organized by the Florida Education Association roughly two hours after DeSantis’ remarks, United Teachers of Dade First Vice President Antonio “Tony” White said he was “taken aback” by the governor’s comments.

“Right now, we’re facing a concerted effort [by] right-wing advocates trying to eliminate teachers’ unions, trying to separate and divide us from our teachers,” said White.

White said DeSantis and Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. had “joined forces” with the Freedom Foundation to create a “phony front group” — Miami-Dade Education Coalition. Miami-Dade was the only county in Florida targeted by this group, he said.

“This is simply an attempt to strip us of our bargaining rights,” said White.

DeSantis’ press office and Diaz did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. (Diaz spoke at the Freedom Foundation’s First Annual Teacher Summit in Denver, Colorado last summer.)

“This governor has consistently fallen short in boosting funding here to move Florida up in the rankings,” White said. “The truth of the matter is teacher salaries have simply declined each and every year in the state of Florida under this governor’s administration.”

Florida ranks 16th in the nation for average teacher starting salary at $47,178 but it is last in the nation for average teacher salary overall at $53,098, according to the National Education Association. The state budget this year includes an increase of roughly $202 million for teacher-salary pay raises for both school districts and charter schools. This is on top of the the $1.05 billion allocated over the previous three years to maintain pay raises teachers have already received. Since DeSantis became governor in 2019, teachers have received nearly $4 billion in pay raises, according to his office.

In that same press conference, Reina Aitkens, a rising senior at Robinson High School in Hillsborough County said she went four months during her junior year without AP precalculus instruction after her teacher “unexpectedly left” because “he could not afford to teach at our school anymore because his car broke down and he was paying over $1,000 in tolls to get to our school because he lived in Riverview.”

“We basically just went to class, did nothing every day. And when we finally did get a teacher, this was her first -time teaching and she had no experience,” Aitkens said. “So, most of us went into our AP exams feeling stressed because we didn’t know the content.”

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