South Tampa’s historic Henry B. Plant High School has giant yellow tubes protruding from several second story windows. The tubes are pumping clean air into the school that has been experiencing issues with mold.
That was the backdrop for Democratic Lieutenant Governor candidate Chris King’s message on education Tuesday.
“When people ask me if we can afford to put $1 billion into education, I say we can’t afford not to,” King said.
King’s would-be boss, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, nabbed the Democratic nomination for Governor during a surprising Primary Election. He wants to raise corporate taxes to fund an additional $1 billion for public education.
Gillum’s plan would include a teacher pay-raise that would guarantee a starting salary of $50,000 for all new teachers. To put that in context, teachers in Pinellas and Hillsborough county schools currently start their careers in the low 40s.
Gillum also proposes increasing per-pupil spending and increasing vocational opportunities for students who may not be interested in a four-year college degree.
Problems in Hillsborough are particularly profound. The tubes pumping clean air into one of the district’s most affluent high schools is just one of many deferred maintenance projects the county has had amid a squeezed budget.
Hillsborough County School Board members recognized that the situation was so dire they voted earlier this summer to place a one-half percent sales-tax referendum on the November ballot.
Meanwhile, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis also released an education plan this week that mostly stands in opposition to the Gillum/King proposal.
DeSantis wants to cut administrative costs at local school districts to free up additional money. He would prioritize education spending on the classroom, with 80 percent of funds being spent directly there.
Unlike Gillum, DeSantis wants to increase funding for the state’s Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, which is currently capped at just under $900 million. Those credits are used for families as an alternative to public schools and allow lower-income students to access private school.
Supporters argue that gives more opportunities to students living in neighborhoods without access to quality public schools, while critics say it funnels public money into private schools at the cost of public education.
Where the candidates seem to agree is on vocational education programming. Both acknowledge in their plans that more emphasis should be placed on career-readiness training.
While Gillum’s education plan may play well among Democrats and even moderates, it’s unclear whether he’d have the legislative support to implement a $1 billion increase in spending.
Republicans in the state Senate hold seven more seats than Democrats. In the House, that majority is even more staggering with Republicans holding 75 of the body’s 120 seats.
Despite predictions of a ‘Blue Wave‘ this midterm election, it’s a tall order that Democrats regain a majority.
“The most important is the power of the veto,” outgoing House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa said.
Even if the Gillum education plan can’t be immediately implemented, Cruz hopes that even gaining a few seats could help Democrats after the 2020 census when local, state and federal districts will be redrawn. She said those districts right now are gerrymandered to favor Republicans.
“Voter registration between Democrats and Republicans in Florida is about even, yet we have a supermajority of Republicans in the House,” Cruz said. “It’s cheating and that’s what’s happened here.”