After eight years of Gov. Rick Scott, Florida voters in 2018 will be looking for a change. One of the candidates hoping to take the Sunshine State in a new direction is Andrew Gillum, Mayor of Tallahassee since 2014. He previously served on the Tallahassee City Commission from 2003 to 2014.
He is the son of a school bus driver and a construction worker. As the product of public schools, it is no surprise that Gillum has proposed a $1 billion investment in Florida public schools, students, and teachers to enhance early childhood education, raise teachers’ starting salaries to $50,000, restore public school construction funds, and raise veteran teacher pay. Gillum, 38, also supports a $15 minimum wage, greater access to health care, and an increase in tax on corporations to bolster spending.
“Florida’s education reform has been a failure,” Gillum has said in media reports. “Instead of demonizing our teachers, we should be supporting them and paying them fairly to do one of the most difficult jobs on Earth — to mold, shape, and develop humanity.”
Gillum is married to R. Jai Gillum. They have three children: Twins Jackson and Caroline, 4, and Davis, 1. His commitment to the state’s public education system has garnered him the enthusiastic support of the Florida Education Association (FEA).
Gillum has promised bold leadership on the issues that matter most to public education supporters in Florida.
School Funding Comes First
In Florida, 20 years of GOP rule – starting with Jeb Bush in 1999 – has left the state’s public schools resource-starved. The budget cuts and privatization schemes that were hallmarks of Bush’s tenure continued under Rick Scott. As a result, education funding in the state, when adjusted for inflation, still has not topped pre-recession levels.
Gillum supports a $1 billion investment in public schools that would boost early childhood education, restore constructions funds, and raise teacher salaries to at least the national average. To fund the program, Gillum would legalize marijuana and earmark taxes raised from its sale for the public-school budget.
“We need to fully legalize marijuana, tax it, and use the revenue to take Florida’s public schools from 29th in the nation to first,” he says.
As governor, Gillum has said he would work to rebuild Florida’s education system to assure that “our kids are ready for kindergarten earlier. By third grade, 100 percent of kids in our state should be reading at grade level and as they progress, learning critical thinking skills to compete.”
Beat Back School Privatization
“Charter schools have a record of waste and unaccountability that we would never tolerate from public schools,” Gillum says. “Yet, our state’s education budget continues rewarding charter schools at the expense of public schools.”
Under Rick Scott, $145 million was allocated to charter school maintenance in the state’s 2018-2019 budget — three times the amount allocated to public schools.
Says Gillum: “As a product of Florida’s public schools, I believe we make a promise to our state’s children to provide high-quality, accessible, public schools. We weaken that promise every time we divert taxpayer funds into private and religious education that benefits some students, but not all.”
Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court removed a ballot measure that would have wrested control of charter schools from local districts and given it to the state. In a narrowly divided 4-3 decision, justices upheld the decision by a lower court that Amendment 8, scheduled to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, misled voters by not clearly stating its true purpose and never mentioning charter schools by name.
Still, when it comes to describing the outsized influence of the privatizers who have brought unaccountable charter schools and private school vouchers to Florida, Gillum has said that he “is strongly opposed to unaccountable, for-profit charter schools that want to use public dollars to enrich their executives.”
According to media reports, Gillum called proposed funding for charter schools “a giveaway to (House Republicans’) friends and family … who are well-heeled and well-connected.”
Pay Educators What They’re Worth
Florida’s 174,000 teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. The average salary in the state for a teacher with an average of 11 years of experience is $48,000, which is $12,000 less than the national average.
Gillum’s proposal to legalize and tax marijuana would generate needed revenue so that “all Florida teachers and staff can receive a pay raise up to the national average, veteran teachers can be compensated for their years of service, and so we can raise teachers’ starting salaries to $50,000.”
Provide High School Grads with Opportunity
When students graduate from high school, he explains, “they should have access to training for a career or a college education that won’t leave them with crippling debt.”
Gillum will focus on making college debt free and encouraging businesses to share responsibility for educating the workforce they want to hire.
“To prepare students for high-skill, high-paying jobs, I’ll push for increased investment in SHOP 2.0 (a revitalization of vocational training in public schools) and technical education,” he explains. “We must integrate computer education into all of our vocational programs so that students can learn the skills they need to build a career and support a family.”
Get Corporations to Pay Their Fair Share
For too long, says Gillum, “Florida’s tax structure has benefited the wealthy and corporate interests at the expense of working people.”
Without a state income tax, and with inadequate corporate tax rates, Florida depends on tourism and sales taxes to generate revenue for public services such as education.
Yet, nearly 90 percent of businesses in Florida pay no corporate income tax. Those that do pay, contribute too little, Gillum says.
“I’m the only candidate for governor with a plan to right this wrong,” he explains. “That’s why I introduced my “Fair Share for Florida’s Future” plan, which will raise the state corporate tax rate to 7.75 percent from 5.5 percent generating $1 billion for investment in education, healthcare, and infrastructure.”