Florida law takes aim at teachers union that defied DeSantis

May 9, 2023, 12:32 PM

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seated, tosses a signing pen to a spectator, after signing several b...

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seated, tosses a signing pen to a spectator, after signing several bills related to public education and increases in teacher pay, at a news conference in Miami, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — 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 anti-union 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 at the bill-signing ceremony.

It was one of several bills that DeSantis signed that 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.

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.

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Florida law takes aim at teachers union that defied DeSantis