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Controversial Teachers Union Language Stripped From Education Bill

A key Florida Senate committee has stripped language from an omnibus education bill that threatened the survival of the state’s teachers unions. Critics of the plan say it’s unfair that only teachers were targeted.

The language in question came over to the Senate via House Bill 7055, which includes proposals such as establishing scholarships for bullied kids to switch to public or private schools. It also boasts a proposal to increase financial literacy among students and tighten up on school accountability rules. Most of what’s in the House bill is also encased in various Senate proposals and Tuesday, the chamber’s education committee sought to consolidate all of those ideas into one bill to mirror the House’s measure.

One place where the two chambers differ is on language involving the state’s teachers unions, which has long been a thorn in the side of some Republican state-leaders, who view it as an enemy for opposing issues such as ending tenure, charter schools, tax credit scholarships and other efforts. House Bill 7055 would have required those unions to get 50 percent of all potential dues paying members in a school district to pay dues or risk decertification.  The Florida AFLCIO likened that to a campaign scenario:

“Regardless of whether or not you got 50-plus-one percent of the vote, it says you can’t be a senator unless you’ve been given campaign contributions—not just from Republicans or Democrats—but from every possible voter in the district," said AFL-CIO's Rich Templin.

Retired Leon County Teacher Linda Edson questions why teachers are the only unions mentioned in the language, calling it a "slap in the face."

"And we’re tired of it. This bill, if you wanted to get rid of unions, get rid of all the unions, why just choose the teachers?”  

Linda Edson is a retired teacher from Leon County. And she’s not alone in that. Democratic Senator Gary Farmer questions the language and accuses the House of trying to undermine his chamber.

“We’re the Florida Senate. We should not be dictated to by the Florida House of Representatives," he said. 

An amendment to strip the bill of that language by Democratic Senator Perry Thurston was approved, over the objections of the Florida Chamber and Americans for Prosperity: 

Now whether the language will stay out of the bill is another matter entirely. The proposal still has two more Senate stops along with a floor vote, and whatever version of the bill passes—both chambers must approve the same language.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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