FEA: Opposed to the referendum
Florida Education Association president Andy Ford called a press conference today to make crystal clear that the teachers' union does not support the property tax plan that will go to voters on Jan. 29.
Educators back property tax reform, Ford said, but not at the expense of education. Which makes this proposal a non-starter.
"The plan passed earlier this week does not hold public education harmless," he said. "It cuts, depending upon various estimates, an amount ranging from $1.8 billion to $3 billion from our public schools over the next five years and we have no assurance that the amount won't continue to grow when looked at over a longer period of time."
To read his full remarks, read on.
"FEA has consistently stated that we are supportive of property tax relief for Florida's citizens … our members will benefit from these reductions as many of them, like many of you, are property owners. However, we have also said that we would support a property tax relief package that did not harm Florida's public education system and more importantly, harm the children who attend our public schools. At the same time, the governor and other leaders repeatedly stated that they wished to cut property taxes while holding education harmless. We have taken these leaders at their word and patiently waited. Additionally, we have talked casually with other interested parties in an attempt to determine what actions we could potentially take to oppose any proposal that failed to hold education harmless. We have consistently stated that we wanted our state's leaders to keep their word and craft a plan that holds public education harmless.
The plan passed earlier this week does not hold public education harmless. It cuts, depending upon various estimates, an amount ranging from $1.8 billion to $3 billion from our public schools over the next five years and we have no assurance that the amount won't continue to grow when looked at over a longer period of time. So let me say clearly that the current proposal does not hold education harmless, as was promised, and FEA cannot support the current plan, in its current form based upon the information that we have today. I trust that this statement will clear up any misconceptions that currently exist.
Yesterday, Governor Crist stated his intent to call me for discussions relative to the current property tax proposal. I can confirm that the Governor was kind enough to call and we had a preliminary conversation that resulted in an agreement that we would speak further in the coming weeks. These conversations are an effort by the Governor to reach out to us, as he realizes that FEA is an important stakeholder in Florida's public education system. I appreciate the Governor, his attempt to reach out and his recognition that teachers and education support professionals are an important part of any discussion of our state's public schools. I believe that Governor Crist is sincere in his desire to work toward an improved funding structure for Florida's public schools. Further, I believe that the governor understands that investments are required if we are to build a public education system that competes regionally and nationally. I have spoken with the governor on numerous occasions since his election victory and I am grateful for his willingness to engage in open and candid conversations about education issues. I admire him and am happy to call him a friend. That does not mean that we always agree on policy and I'm confident that the governor understands our difficulty in being supportive of this proposal in its current form.
Finally, I intend to continue talking with the governor and legislative leaders in advance of the regular session. I'm going to be talking about the things we have to discuss if we are going to move public education forward. These issues require discipline, focus and investment on the part of Florida's leaders. I'm willing to talk with anyone regardless of party affiliation and meet anywhere with people that have a sincere desire to work with us in making Florida's public schools the best that they can be. We can no longer do things the same way and now is the perfect time to take a fresh look and have an honest discussion about the investments required to give Florida a world-class public schools system. I believe that any discussion is predicated on a commitment to four broad policy goals:
- Smaller class sizes … where the focus is on learning versus a focus on testing.
- Closing achievement gaps … by moving beyond a conversation toward a vision of what tomorrow's schools should look like.
- Reducing Florida's high-school dropout rate … just this week a report was released showing that 51 percent of Florida's high schools graduate less than 60 percent of students entering as freshmen.
- Improving the base salaries of ALL education professionals … in a meaningful way that allows Florida to compete on both a regional and national level to recruit and retain the very best people.
We are at a crossroads, and Florida needs real leadership as we tackle some difficult issues. FEA is committed to being a part of these discussions and we continue to be fully engaged in protecting our public schools, the teachers and support professionals that work within them and finally the children that attend them.