Teachers’ union change stripped from Florida education bill

The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday rejected a House proposal that could force teachers unions in Florida to disband if their membership falls below half of the employees they represent.

The decision came as the panel voted unanimously to advance a major education bill (HB 7055) that is important to House leaders and contains a new voucher program to give bullied public-school students state-funded scholarships to transfer to private schools.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

The “hope scholarships” would be paid for by Florida motorists who elect to contribute money to the voucher program when they buy or register vehicles. Vehicle owners would get a tax credit against the sales tax they would normally pay in a vehicle transaction. The Senate proposes a $20 credit, while the House wants a $105 credit.

Other provisions in the bill include strengthening state oversight for publicly funded private-school voucher programs, including the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, and making modifications in the “schools of hope” program, which passed last year and encourages the expansion of charter schools to help students in persistently low-performing schools.

» RELATED: Know Your Candidates guide for March 13 municipal elections

Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, offered the Senate version of the bill Tuesday in a wide-ranging amendment. It includes a Senate initiative that would dedicate more funding to mental-health services in the 67 school districts and a requirement that high school students take a financial literacy course to graduate.

But most of the debate was focused on a House proposal, which was included in Hukill’s amendment, that could result in teachers unions losing state certification if their membership falls below 50 percent of the employees they represent in the collective-bargaining process.

Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, proposed removing that language from the bill. Noting his mother spent a 36-year career as a teacher, Thurston said the provision was “unreasonable” and part of a continued “attack” on teachers.

Thurston’s proposed change passed in a 5-4 vote, with two Republican senators, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa and David Simmons of Altamonte Springs, joining three Democrats on the committee in support.

Thurston said students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland told him that one of the 17 victims of last week’s mass shooting at the school was a teacher who “jumped in front of the gunman” trying to save the students.

“These are the people we are targeting,” Thurston said.

Chris Emmanuel, representing the Florida Chamber of Commerce, testified against Thurston’s proposed change, saying unions that fall below the membership level would be able to seek recertification.

“What this measure does is ensure that the bargaining unit is represented by a union that has an adequate amount of their membership in it,” he said.

But most of the testimony was in support of Thurston’s proposal, including from Linda Edson, a retired Leon County fourth-grade teacher.

Edson, who spent more than 41 years in the classroom, said she was never a member of a teachers’ union, which is allowed under Florida’s “right to work” policy, but she still benefited from the union’s efforts.

“I’m tired of slapping the teachers in the face,” Edson said. “You need to think about what you’re doing to teachers.”

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, warned that if local teachers’ unions are decertified, it could negate the contracts they have worked out with county school boards.

“And I don’t think anybody knows for sure exactly what is going to happen,” he said.

Lee said he voted for eliminating the union language because senators were not given enough information to determine the impact of the provision, including how many local teachers’ unions might fall below the 50 percent membership level.

With the limited time the committee had to evaluate the bill, Lee said there was “no way to get into the level of detail to ferret out exactly what we’re doing.” He also said there may be ways to modify the existing union decertification process without causing widespread disruption that critics say may occur if the House provision becomes law.

The debate over the teachers’ union provision is likely to be renewed when the bill next moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Politics

Lawyer Palm Beach County chose for opioid suit has controversy in past
Lawyer Palm Beach County chose for opioid suit has controversy in past

Paul Napoli has survived leukemia, a dispute with another firm over legal fees, an acrimonious split with a former law firm partner and a tabloid-feeding sex scandal involving a junior associate. Now, the New York lawyer is poised to help represent Palm Beach County in what could be one of the biggest court cases in the county’s history...
Florida to replace Confederate statue at US Capitol with civil-rights leader
Florida to replace Confederate statue at US Capitol with civil-rights leader

A statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune soon will replace one of a Confederate general as a representation of Florida in the U.S. Capitol, as a result of a bill signed Monday by Gov. Rick Scott. It was one of 30 bills Scott signed into law Monday. Among the others: one requiring a state department to create a plan that...
Democrats tell DeVos her “head is in the sand” on racial bias
Democrats tell DeVos her “head is in the sand” on racial bias

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended her agency’s commitment to minority students in a wide-ranging hearing in which congressional leaders pressed DeVos on her department’s budget.  DeVos testified before the House Appropriations Committee, fielding questions on the Education Department’s budget request for the fiscal year...
Vaping could be added to state smoking ban
Vaping could be added to state smoking ban

Florida banned smoking in workplaces more than 15 years ago, and a powerful state panel on Tuesday backed a proposal that would add vaping and electronic cigarettes to the ban. Former state Sen. Lisa Carlton, the main backer of the proposal, said Floridians have been subjected to second-hand vapor when they attend movies or restaurants and other public...
Barron Trump’s school joins call for president to enact gun control — and not to arm teachers
Barron Trump’s school joins call for president to enact gun control — and not to arm teachers

The leaders of more than 125 private independent schools in the Washington, D.C., area are calling on President Donald Trump and Congress to enact "vigorous" gun-control measures and warning that arming teachers - an idea the president supports — is "dangerous and antithetical to our profession as educators." Participating...
More Stories