In his first major policy plan on public education in Florida, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis released details Tuesday that would tackle everything from potential wasteful spending, political biases in textbooks and a “complete review” of academic standards to ensure that the federal government isn’t dictating standards to Florida.
In terms of education spending, a cornerstone of the proposal is an “80% Classroom Spending Plan” that would earmark millions of dollars of state revenue to go directly into classrooms. For the most part, that means money for teacher salaries, textbooks and supplies.
“This will cut bureaucratic waste and administrative inefficiency and ensure that money is being spent where it matters most,” the DeSantis plan states.
How that 80 percent plan will be configured and implemented is not clear. And if the percentage becomes a mandate, it could be a problem for many districts that don’t spend 80 percent of their dollars on pure instruction now. On average across the state, school districts spend about 64 percent of their budgets for instruction expenditures, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.
And while DeSantis’s plan references a “boost” in classroom spending, the Florida Education Association criticized the proposals.
“DeSantis brings forward no large-scale proposals that would make it easier for districts to hire and keep qualified teachers and education staff professionals — no effort to raise salaries to at least the national average, no increase in education dollars to provide more resources for our students and public schools,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a written statement.
And, “As for his 80 percent proposal, aside from the fact that the scheme flies in the face of local control of schools, it is a political gimmick that other states have tried and abandoned,” she said.
DeSantis’s education proposals also focus on charters and other nontraditional schools that have been unpopular with public school teachers and administrators, as well as expanding scholarships for students to attend private schools.
Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum held a press conference Tuesday on his $1 billion initiative to shore up spending for public schools and increase both starting and veteran teacher salaries.
Gillum has proposed to raise the corporate tax rate from 5.5% to 7.75% to allow the state to pay teachers a starting salary of $50,000 and help boost average salaries for teachers whose pay is already well below the national average. The salary increases, he said, would likely be phased in over five years.
Gillum’s proposals were announced during the primary election season, but his plans have become controversial because of his proposed funding source – increasing corporate taxes.
DeSantis and the Republican Governors Association labeled Gillum’s plan “radical.” Gillum said on Tuesday that his proposal wouldn’t increase taxes on Floridians and that the overwhelming majority of corporations won’t be paying more either.
“Not one Floridian will pay a dime more under our plan. Not one,” he told a gathering of reporters in Tallahassee. “Ninety-eight percent of corporations in this state will pay no more today than what they will pay under my plan.”
The Tallahassee mayor pushed back on the notion that increasing the corporate tax rate would discourage businesses from coming to Florida. Just the opposite, he said.
“If we don’t invest in the development of our talent we are never going to reach the fullest potential of this state,” he said.
He also bashed DeSantis for voting in Congress to cut education spending and reduce funding for Pell grants for disadvantaged students.
Both DeSantis and Gillum have at least one thing in common – they would like to see the state focus on career and technical skills for students who don’t end up going to college.