Marshall Center for Educational Options

Wash⁠i⁠ng⁠t⁠on Exam⁠i⁠ner: DeSan⁠t⁠⁠i⁠s S⁠t⁠ands Up for Teachers

By: Guest Author / 2023

F. Vincent Vernuccio
February 10, 2023

Lovers of employee freedom, cast your eyes toward Tallahassee.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), with his recently introduced paycheck protection proposal, is showing state leaders how to empower teachers over special interests.

The governor’s proposal, dubbed a Teacher’s Bill of Rights, draws clear boundary lines between the interests of teachers and the interests of teachers unions. The proposal restores the rights of taxpayers and teachers, who don’t always support union politics. For example, DeSantis’s proposal would end the practice of union dues being deducted directly from teachers’ paychecks — a process undertaken at taxpayers’ expense.

And the governor’s proposal would prohibit union officials from doing union work while on the clock for their taxpayer-funded job. Known as “release time,” the paid workday hours that public employees spend doing union work can add up. In Miami-Dade County alone, public employees spent 132,433 on-the-clock hours doing union work between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2019, according to a James Madison Institute report . Those hours cost taxpayers more than $4 million.

The governor has also taken aim at so-called “zombie unions,” which lack adequate documented support from the teachers they claim to represent. DeSantis would shore up laws on how membership is verified to ensure that, when membership drops below 60%, teachers get to vote on whether they keep their union, get a new one, or decline representation altogether.

In addition to empowering teachers to vote on unions that lack popular support, the measure allows Florida to enforce accurate membership reporting. A lack of accountability plagues the system, where unions self-report membership that often hovers conveniently just above 50% — the current threshold to trigger an election. The governor’s plan would ensure these reports are accurate, allowing existing laws to be enforced.

Some unions have framed DeSantis’s proposal as an attack , but their interpretation pushes a false dichotomy. Every step the governor takes to bring democracy and accountability back to unions is also a step to improve the lot of Florida teachers.

DeSantis prioritizes transparency, for example, requiring that unions notify members annually of the cost of membership. Average union dues in Florida’s largest school districts can run over $700 per year, not an insignificant sum.

Teachers would also be notified that union membership is optional, not a condition of employment. This provision is critical. Teachers often sign up for a union when they begin their first teaching job. The paperwork comes among a flurry of forms, meetings, and training sessions associated with the new job. The fact that membership is optional is a detail that may conveniently be lost in the shuffle.

And the governor’s proposal tackles the important question of compensation, requesting $1 billion for teacher pay in the coming year. The increase would build upon the $2 billion in teacher pay funding provided since 2020. DeSantis has overseen the largest teacher pay increase in Florida’s history.

Once upon a time, unions existed to represent the interests of their members. Today, unions like the National Education Association spend more on politics, lobbying, and gifts than on representation.

But DeSantis aims to hand the power back to teachers.

The proposal restores teachers’ ability to do their jobs without union overreach. It strengthens the right to have a say in who represents them. It demands the organizational transparency that’s due to a union’s paying members. And it reinforces professional integrity by paying teachers more and empowering them to choose for themselves whether they pay a union.

The state legislature has entertained variations of paycheck protection in previous years. But the momentum unleashed by DeSantis’s leadership on the issue will make 2023 the year that paycheck protection becomes law. And the momentum may not stop with Florida. DeSantis’s initiative spotlights a growing trend in states across the country.

Indiana, for example, implemented an opt-in system for its teachers in 2021. The policy allows teachers to decide annually whether to join and pay dues to a union. The opt-in process includes reminding teachers that their First Amendment right to free speech means that they have the freedom to join or not join the union.

Last year in Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued an executive order urging the State Board of Education to similarly inform school employees of their rights regarding union membership and payment. The governor’s vision would also require schools to have informed consent before deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks.

Other states, including Tennessee and Montana, have considered similar provisions.

As Florida goes, so goes the nation? For the sake of teachers everywhere, let’s hope so.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is a senior labor policy adviser for Workers for Opportunity.

Originally found on Washington Examiner.