The state’s largest teachers’ union is taking aim at a massive education bill making its way through the Florida House of Representatives, saying the sweeping legislation would “starve” Florida schools and cause students to suffer.
On Monday, the Florida Education Association launched a 30-second digital ad attacking HB 7055, the House’s 200-page omnibus education bill which lays out a number of provisions for the state’s education system.
Among the proposals is a new voucher program for bullied students dubbed the “Hope Scholarship” program, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has made a top priority for the 2018 legislative session. The new voucher would allow bullied children to attend private schools with public funds.
Republican lawmakers say statistics have found nearly 50,000 incidents of bullying and assault happen every year in Florida schools.
Other portions of HB 7055 would make it more difficult for school districts to eliminate charter schools. Next year’s funding for public schools would also become contingent on lawmakers passing the legislation.
One of the more controversial aspects of the bill directly affects teachers' unions like the FEA, who would be required to maintain a 50 percent membership among total teachers statewide.
According to data from EducationWeek, Florida is home to over 180,000 teachers. Around 137,000 teachers make up the FEA.
The FEA was quick to pounce on HB 7055, criticizing the bill as an attempt to dismantle unions and another “Tallahassee assault on local public schools.”
The clip trashes the Hope Scholarship legislation for wasting taxpayer money, a claim the union has repeatedly made against Corcoran and other Republican lawmakers.
“His bully bill wastes more money on failed programs while our schools starve and our children suffer,” the narrator says.
FEA president Joanne McCall called HB 7055 a “monstrosity” and said the teachers’ union would not support the legislation.
“This...is a clear attempt to destroy our public schools while telling professional educators they simply are not welcome in Florida,” McCall said in a statement. “Today we are asking lawmakers to stand up to Speaker Corcoran and for our children, for our teachers and for our public schools. We are asking them to say ‘enough is enough.'"
Democrats have flocked to FEA’s defense, questioning the rationale behind HB 7055.
“The ironic approach to this bill is that we are speaking directly to bullies but the real question is why are we bullying those within our educational system?” asked Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-, who called this year’s legislation “HB 7069 on steroids.”
McGhee said the proposal was a “direct torpedo” to unions in Florida who he said “come to the rescue of educators” in Florida.
“Why are we bullying the FEAs of the world?” McGhee said. “We know this bill is problematic, without a question...not a single word inside of this bill is there to assist educational progress.”
State Republicans and the FEA have often been at odds over education policy throughout the years, most recently over the issue of the state’s tax credit scholarship program, which the FEA said unfairly diverted money from public schools.
When it comes to 2018 educational policy, the FEA said it was clear now is the time to remove anti-teacher lawmakers from positions of power.
“It’s time to drain the swamp,” the narrator says in the ad, seemingly alluding to Corcoran. “And we know just where to begin.”