Crist goes after DeSantis’ public school system; launches “Freedom to Learn” policy platform

Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate and U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist on Tuesday launched an education-focused policy platform titled “Freedom to Learn,” reflecting on his experience with Florida’s public school system and disparaging Governor Ron DeSantis’ views on education.

“I told you, I’m a public school kid,” Crist said at a Tuesday press conference in Tampa, previously saying he attended St. was eventually elected Florida Commissioner of Education as a Republican in 2000. He was also a Republican Governor and Attorney General before becoming a Democrat.

“My dad was on the Pinellas County School Board. Two of my three sisters were public teachers. I graduated from one of our great state universities (Florida State University),” Crist said. “It’s in my DNA.”

While Crist flaunted his connection to Florida public schools, many of his comments were directed at DeSantis’ handling of the state’s education system, including criticizing the average salary of low-level teachers and efforts to limit tuition. class discussions on race and LGBTQ+ issues.

DeSantis says his administration’s education policies focus on “education, not indoctrination,” saying there’s a push to include what’s called “revival,” that is, say a more progressive curriculum, in public schools.

“The conditions are not good. The salary is not correct. Everything is bad under Wrong Ron,” Crist said.

Among the crowd was Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, who was considered for her lieutenant governor, along with several other candidates.

Crist said the first step to getting “on the right track” is to “take care of himself,” which means unseating DeSantis as Florida governor in the 2022 gubernatorial election. mind that Crist should win the primary in August.

He then presented some of his political plans for education, such as investing “5.5 billion to increase teachers’ salaries”.

The Florida Legislature has earmarked millions of dollars for teacher salary increases over the past three fiscal years at the behest of Governor DeSantis, with the majority of the funding going to increase teachers’ starting salaries to $47,500 and part of the money intended to increase additional salaries.

But the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union that supports Crist, argues that DeSantis’ pay raises haven’t been enough to raise the salaries of experienced veteran teachers.

Crist referenced that complaint at Tuesday’s press conference, saying his “(DeSantis) salary cut is leaving veteran teachers dry.”

(Research by the National Education Association shows that the average teacher salary in Florida is $51,009, ranking 48th in the nation, based on 2020-21 data.)

Crist also wants to make changes to how teachers receive healthcare options.

“We’re going to give districts the option to join the state’s (health) plan and we’ll even take the tab — on one condition, though. Districts will have to take all the money they’re currently spending on this — on their health plan, let the state do it — and turn it into higher salaries for educators and non-teaching staff,” he said. he declares.

He said teachers’ unions would have a role to play in determining the details.

“Now this is an important point: I don’t want Tallahassee dictating how it’s done. You get into the nuts and bolts, that’s important. And so, I want that option to be between the district and the union — to solidify your strength,” he said.

Crist also suggested he would restore the education commissioner as an elected position, rather than an appointed one. Florida Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation to do so in the 2022 legislative session, but the bill failed to gain traction in the GOP-controlled legislature.

“I’m the last elected education commissioner in Florida history,” said Crist, who served as the state’s top education official in the early 2000s. they should be re-elected, right? Wouldn’t that be nice? »

Its educational platforms include other policy goals, such as increasing per-student spending in the state budget – NEA data shows a per-student figure of $10,703 for FL, ranking 44th rank of the country – and recovering from the loss of academic learning due in part to the COVID pandemic.

Although he did not refer to or attack his main main opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, he reminded the crowd of the “important” Democratic primaries on August 23.

“Let no one forget. Be sure to vote. Tell all your friends to vote,” he said, without mentioning Fried.

Fried has similar positions on education policy, she says. campaign website, including increasing teacher salaries and spending per student. She also wants to expand programs like the Florida Bright Futures scholarships and technical and trade schools.

Fried criticized DeSantis’ handling of Florida school systems, particularly during COVID-19 and subsequent mask and funding controversies.

When the Florida Department of Education removed resources for LGBTQ+ students who are being bullied from its website, Fried asked the Florida Department of Agriculture to fill the information gap by releasing these resources. on his agency’s website.

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