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Governor Signs Education Bills Banning Automatic Teacher Union Dues Deductions, Term Limits for School Board Members, Restrictions on Social Media, and Protections for Teachers who Report Administrators

The Florida Channel via WPLG
The Florida Channel via WPLG

Miami - Tuesday May 9, 2023: Teachers and other government employees will have to write monthly checks if they want to stay in their union after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday banning automatic dues deductions from public employees' paychecks,

The bill also gives employees the right to immediately quit a union for no reason and requires unions to recertify if the number of dues-paying members drops below 60% of those eligible to join. “If you want to join, you can, but you write a check and you hand it over. That is gonna lead to more take-home pay for teachers,” DeSantis said.

The measure was one of five bills signed by the Governor in Miami at the True North Classical Academy, a tuition-free charter school that specializes a classical liberal arts education.

All five of the new laws affect education, including new term limits for school board members, restrictions on student social media use and protections for teachers who report administrators they believe are violating state education policies.

“We have delivered another record boost to teacher pay and we have coupled salary increases with positive reforms," said the Governor. "For far too long, unions and rogue school boards have pushed around our teachers, misused government funds for political purposes ... and sheltered their true political goals from the educators they purport to represent."

While DeSantis touted the bills as giving more freedom to teachers, the Florida Education Association disputed the governor's narrative by saying the actions were punishment for opposing his policies, similar to the way DeSantis has used his office to seek retribution on others who disagree with him.

“The governor may have let his desire to crush perceived opponents get the best of him,” teachers union President Andrew Spar said in a news release. "This new law grossly oversteps in trying to silence teachers, staff, professors and most other public employees. We will not go quietly — our students and our professions are simply too important.”

The bill also forces unions to tell members the salaries of their five top compensated officials. It doesn't apply to unions that represent first-responders.

Spar likened the action to the way DeSantis punished Disney World for speaking out against legislation that banned discussion of sexual preferences and gender identity in school lessons. He said the governor's policies are contributing to a teacher shortage.

Another bill DeSantis signed will give teachers the benefit of the doubt when dealing with disruptive students and would protect teachers who turn in administrators and school board members who violate state education policy.

The law comes at a time when school districts are trying to implement changes imposed by DeSantis, including restrictions on how race and sexuality can be taught in schools and more power given to parents seeking to ban books.

DeSantis sounded like he is still bitter unions opposed his ban on mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic and the school districts that required them despite the governor's order.

“What did some of the school districts and school unions do? They defied the state. We ended up having to go to court over this because you had a handful of rogue districts that thought they knew better than the elected representatives and the parents of this state,” DeSantis said.

In 2021, DeSantis threatened to withhold money from districts that had mandatory mask policies. All districts eventually complied.

“There's no question — if you look at COVID, locking kids out of school — the unions not only were for it, they were instrumental in ensuring it,” DeSantis said.

Another new law will allow teachers to set classroom phone use policies, such as having students hand over their phones at the beginning of class. It also bans the use of TikTok on school equipment and doesn't allow students to use school internet to access social media unless it's part of an assignment.

“Social media, it has more problem than it solves, and I think it does more harm than good,” DeSantis said. “Put those devices down and live life normally, and I think we’re going to be so much better off.”

Another new law will reduce term limits for school board members from 12 years to eight years.

The five new education related laws signed by the Governor are:

Senate Bill 256

  • Prohibits teachers’ unions from using government resources to have dues deducted directly from employee paychecks.
  • Requires unions to notify members of the costs of membership.
  • Requires a union to represent at least 60% of employees – increasing from the current 50%.
  • Allows state investigations into unions suspected of fraud, waste, and abuse.
  • Requires annual audits and financial disclosures for unions.
  • Prohibits any union from offering anything of value to a public official in collective bargaining negotiations.

House Bill 477

  • Reduces term limits from 12 to 8 years for school board members – the same term limits the Governor, Cabinet, and the entire Legislature are subject to.
  • The Legislature also passed Joint Resolution 31, which will go directly onto the November 2024 General Election ballot, to return school board elections to transparent, partisan elections. District school board members have been elected in nonpartisan elections since 2000 but were elected in partisan elections prior to that year.

House Bill 1537

  • Extends temporary teaching certificates from three years to five years.
  • Improves the overall quality of Florida’s teacher preparation programs by eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic requirements from certification and alternative certification programs.
  • Requires a system-wide shift from professional development to professional learning, including requiring the Department of Education to create a high-quality programs web-based marketplace.
  • Expands eligibility for temporary teaching certification to candidates who are currently enrolled in state-approved teacher preparation programs.
  • Additional provisions in the bill include:
  • Declares September 11th to be “9/11 Heroes’ Day” and requires 45 minutes of instruction for middle school and high school students on the events of 9/11.
  • Makes Florida the first state in the nation to formally adopt the Classical Learning Test as an alternative to SAT and ACT for schools to offer to students to earn postsecondary scholarship funding to state colleges and universities (Bright Futures) and establish concordant scores for graduation.

House Bill 1035

  • Creates Chapter 1015 in Florida Statutes to codify the “Teachers’ Bill of Rights.”
  • Takes a stand for teachers’ efforts to preserve safety and order in their classrooms by giving teaches the benefit of the doubt when breaking up fights, preventing assaults, and giving teachers the presumption of acting lawfully, acting on behalf of their personal safety, and the safety of their students.
  • Gives Florida teachers an avenue to report if they have been directed to break the law by their administration or school board.
  • Establishes the Heroes in the Classroom Bonus Program to provide a one-time sign-on bonus to retired first responders and veterans who become a full-time classroom teacher.
  • Establishes the Teacher Apprenticeship Program and Mentor Bonus as an alternative pathway for individuals to enter the teaching profession and authorizes a temporary apprenticeship certificate.
  • Establishes the Dual Enrollment Educator Scholarship Program to assist Florida public high school teachers in obtaining the graduate degree and credentials necessary to provide dual enrollment coursework directly to students on high school campuses.

House Bill 379

  • Takes social media out of the classroom and TikTok out of our schools.
  • Gives teachers the authority to establish classroom rules on cell phone use during instructional times and allows them to withhold a student’s phone if it is a disruption in the classroom.
  • Requires district school boards to implement website filtering to prevent students from connecting to social media sites while using a district owned computer or server.
  • Prohibits the use of TikTok on district owned devices.
  • Requires schools to give instruction on the harmful effects of social media.

The Governor also announced that he will approve the more than $1 billion in funding for additional teacher pay in this year’s budget, a $252 million increase over the current amount.
Additionally, the Governor said he will sign these other education related measures:

  • $10 million for the Heroes in the Classroom Bonus Program (HB 1035).
  • $3.5 million for the Dual Enrollment Teacher Scholarship Program (HB 1035).
  • $4.0 million for the Teacher Apprenticeship Program and Mentor Bonus (HB 1035).
  • $5.0 million for the Grow Your Own Teacher Registered Apprenticeship Program Expansion.