TALLAHASSEE — Let’s be clear that what certain senators did today has nothing to do with teacher “empowerment,” “protection,” or granting educators freedoms and rights. It has nothing to do with helping students. Instead, Senate Bill (SB) 256 is about revenge. As we have seen repeatedly with targets ranging from Disney to school boards, Gov. DeSantis strikes against those who dare speak in opposition. The target of SB 256 is educators and their unions, but ultimately the bill will harm schoolchildren.
“Florida has a critical shortage of teachers and staff. Trying to silence educators is not going to get more teachers in front of our students, more drivers for their buses, or nurses and mental health counselors in our schools. It will do the opposite and drive people away,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA). “Educators join our schools because they love helping kids, and they deserve the governor’s respect. What they’ve gotten is doublespeak. No one is fooled when you tell teachers you’re giving them rights, then attack their right to join a union to advocate for our students and professions, or when you say you’re ‘empowering’ educators while limiting their freedom to teach or even speak.”
In a “right-to-work” state such as Florida, SB 256 and its House companion, HB 1445, stand as a solution in search of a problem. No individual in this state is compelled to join a union. FEA members have chosen to be members of their own free will, for the opportunity of standing together to advocate for better working conditions for educators and for better learning conditions for students, and for the reassurance of having their union colleagues stand with and behind them. Being adults, they have chosen how to pay their dues and know full well how their paychecks work out, without the governor’s so-called protection.
As teachers, staff and higher education faculty will attest, they want to be in their unions.
“When I joined my union almost 30 years ago — coming from a union family — I realized that the teacher union was so much more than worker rights. It’s about having the ability, with a collective voice and through constitutionally guaranteed bargaining rights and protections, to advocate for students and conditions that promote the success of Florida’s educators and students, without fear of reprisal,” said Palm Beach County teacher and union member Michael Woods. “To me, it seems shortsighted to single out a group who sees the possibility of Florida and our young people. Let’s celebrate educators rather than attack them.”
For beginning educators, union membership can make the difference on their success with students and whether they stick with the profession.
Osceola teacher Emily Gorentz, who has been in the classroom since 2018, has drawn great support from her union: “As an early-career educator, I have found teaching in these last few years to be far more challenging than I ever anticipated. But I am here today because my union has had my back through it all — from fighting for extra pay for hybrid teaching to providing professional development and personal encouragement. My union is a place where I am empowered to be the best teacher I can be, but SB 256 wants to take that away by limiting my freedom to pay dues as I choose and requiring arbitrary membership numbers that could eliminate my essential support system.”
In truth, the only “problem” SB 256 might address is that educators and the governor do not always see eye to eye on what’s best for students and schools. Add to that the perception by certain politicians that the path toward the U.S. presidency runs along a divisive route through our public schools, colleges and universities.
Even before the actions of this legislative session, Florida’s shortage of teachers and support staff has been growing more severe. Lawmakers still can act in support of teachers and staff on one crucial issue driving the shortage: pay. Florida ranks 48th in the nation in average teacher pay, and some support staff scrape by on poverty wages. The people who serve Florida’s students deserve fair, competitive salaries.
And all students — regardless of race, background, gender identity, sexual orientation, ZIP code or ability — should be able to get the education they deserve and need at fully funded and staffed public schools.
CONTACT: Joni Branch, email@example.com, (850) 201-3223
The Florida Education Association is the state’s largest association of professional employees, with 150,000 members. FEA represents PreK-12 teachers, higher education faculty, educational staff professionals, students at our colleges and universities preparing to become teachers and retired education employees.