“Help is on the way,” Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Chris King vowed to a cheering Florida teachers union convention in Orlando Friday afternoon.
Before what in many ways was a home court crowd – the Florida Education Association has long backed Democrats and has endorsed the ticket led by gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum – King only briefly laid out the Democrat’s education plan, specifically to increase spending in public schools, particularly on teachers’ salaries, and to reemphasize teachers and deemphasize testing.
Instead, as King stood in Friday for Gillum at the Florida Education Association’s Annual Delegate Assembly at the Rosen Centre hotel, he sought to connect Gillum’s story with their own, seeking to energize and inspire the teachers and other employees in public schools to turn out for the Democratic ticket. He spoke of how public school teachers made a difference for Gillum, and how he was preparing to finish that circle.
“If there is anything about Andrew and I, we believe in public education. We are committed to public education,” King said. “We believe the future of economy is woven with the strength and vitality of our public schools. And at our best we value our teachers by paying them what they are worth, by creating a culture that seeks to end this high-stakes testing, by stopping this constant, divestment of resources into for-profit schools.”
King charged that under 20 years of Republican leadership in Tallahassee, “90 percent of the discussion and innovation, supposedly, has been about everything but public education,” and then vowed, “That stops with Andrew Gillum. That stops with Chris King.”
That played well with the 800-900 FEA delegates in the room, but King knows that outside of the teachers union, some of the Democratic ticket’s plans make some voters nervous about tax increases that are unlikley to be approved, and nervous about charter schools and private education scholarships that their families might be using.
Addressing reporters after his FEA speech, King stressed that Gillum’s $1 billion investment in public education proposal, while currently tied to his proposed $1 billion increase in the tax rate for big corporations, could wind up coming about through other means, including re-allocating money from savings King said they expect from prison and criminal justice reforms.
He also stressed that Gillum is not talking about withdrawing money for such popular private school programs as the McKay Scholarships, at least not initially; but in stopping the growth, to reserve money for public education.
“The broader consensus is public education needs greater investment, in public schools,” King said. “I think we are going to see, and I’m a big believer, that we are going to win this election and next year in session there is going to be consensus around more investment in public eduation, particularly around teacher salaries and support-staff salaries, and investments in troubled or distressed public schools. I think there is growing consensus there.”