‘Teachers’ Bill of Rights’ sails through Florida Senate committee
Tampa Bay Times | By Jeffrey S Solochek | March 6, 2023
The legislation, opposed by teacher unions, is part of a package of education measures requested by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Citing the need to better support teachers, the Florida Senate Education PreK-12 Committee on Monday advanced “Teachers’ Bill of Rights” legislation that Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed in January.
The measure, Senate Bill 244, would establish a new chapter of Florida law to consolidate and enhance the rules governing how teachers can control their classroom discipline and academic lessons, and ensure that their employment status is not affected by their membership in a union.
It further aims to establish additional new bonus and certification programs, with the goal of attracting and retaining more educators in classrooms. Those include bonuses for retired first responders and military veterans, and temporary apprenticeship certificates for aspiring educators with an associate degree.
School districts across the state have reported about 5,000 teaching vacancies, with numbers rising over past years.
“This bill creates a solution for something urgently needed,” said sponsor Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami.
The other half of the governor’s proposal appears in a separate bill slated to come before the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday. That legislation, Senate Bill 256, targets the role of teacher unions, which have long been viewed as opponents of the Republican Party at the state level.
As DeSantis requested, SB 256 would increase the required percentage of teacher participation to maintain union certification. It would not allow unions to collect dues through school district paycheck deductions. It also would prevent unions from distributing information at school district properties.
Local teacher union leaders took a dim view of the package of bills, which they saw as the Legislature’s latest attempt to stifle collective bargaining that’s guaranteed in Article I, Section 6 of the Florida Constitution.
If teachers unions become decertified because they cannot achieve 60% representation, as the lawmakers have put forth, then teachers will have no one to negotiate their terms of service, said Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Nancy Velardi.
“Their contract is their bill of rights,” Velardi said. Lawmakers are proposing SB 244 “because they’re trying to take away this actual bill of rights that protects” teachers.
She and United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace noted that much of the language in the “Teachers’ Bill of Rights” proposal exists in current state law. The chapter called “Authority of teacher” includes much of the exact wording included in the bill.
“It isn’t really new, and it really doesn’t help teachers” to restate the law, Peace said. “If the lawmakers and the governor really want to help teachers, they need to pony up some dollars and put it in the kitty, send it to the districts without strings and let us negotiate a reasonable contract.”
He noted that the Pasco County district has yet to achieve the state’s goal of $47,500 for base teacher pay despite three years of the state putting millions more toward teacher salaries.
When presenting the bill Monday, Calatayud said it consolidates items from several statutes, similar to what the Legislature did when it created the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” chapter of law in 2021.The argument was that doing so makes it easier to locate the rules.
Her bill would authorize the Department of Education Office of Inspector General, primarily in place to review allegations of fraud and abuse, to investigate accusations or reports of “suspected violations of a student’s, parent’s, or teacher’s rights.” It passed unanimously through the committee, which asked no questions and had no debate.
Velardi called both bills “problematic” for teachers and their unions. She said she expected that once more educators realize what the state is doing, they will decide to join a union. When the Legislature last increased the mandatory minimum participation rate for unions in 2018, most saw membership rise.
Peace said he hoped Floridians will see that teachers unions are not the problem.
“We show up for work every day,” he said. “This is big government getting in a political war, and using students as pawns, and that’s not fair.”