Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum, has made his education proposal a major pillar of his campaign.
Florida schools are chronically underfunded, teachers say. Florida ranks 40th in the nation for students’ college-preparedness, according to the U.S. News and World Report.
Gillum wants to pump $1 billion into early childhood education and raise teacher salaries to $50,000. To pay for it, he said he’ll legalize and tax marijuana, and raise the corporate income tax from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent.
Pat Gardner, president of the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, is optimistic, but believes the education system needs reformation before raising the corporate income tax.
“I think they should get rid of the loopholes first and if it needs to be raised, I think they should raise it,” Gardner said.
Gardner supports the idea of investing in teachers of Florida, but criticized the problems with corporate vouchers for charter and private schools.
“Corporations donate to corporate vouchers and kids can apply to get these to go to private and religious schools,” Gardner said. “That’s been diverting the amount of money going into public schools right now, and it’s taking away from teachers’ salaries which is also why we have some of the lowest pay in the nation. I think that’s what the taxpayers are paying their money for, and I think it should go to public schools.”
Gillum hasn’t yet proposed Florida’s voucher system specifically, but favors cutting tax dollars spent on charter schools.
“These schools in town pay huge rent to their corporations to get their charter so all this Florida tax money goes to this corporation outside of Florida,” Gardner said.
She said charter schools in Florida lack accountability.
“My teachers will tell you that they get kids that will come back to public schools from charter schools a year behind,” Gardner said. “Our teachers pay the price when they come back, and they’re not academically where they should be.”
Gillum’s plan would help children prepare for kindergarten earlier. Under his plan would be reading at grade level by third grade.
Gardner said rebuilding the school system won’t help children succeed early on in their education. She said many bring with them to school problems from home such as poverty and poor parenting. The money invested into education should be going to the people who can help kids with detrimental problems like these, she said.
“What he needs to concentrate on is home life parenting, opioid epidemic and how it is affecting children and bringing that to school, and violence in preschool that we haven’t seen before,” she said.
Gardner wants to see Gillum put more emphasis on counseling, parenting classes and support for guidance counselors.
“You can’t get kids ready by just rebuilding the school system,” Gardner said. “You have to address poverty issues, parenting issues, drug issues, all those things together.”