A graduate himself of our Florida public schools, Carlos is committed to making sure schools and teachers have the resources they need to provide all students a quality education — that’s why Florida PTA named Carlos their Legislator of the Year in 2020! Carlos has been a champion of school safety, especially in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas that shook Florida and our nation to its core. He has helped increase mental health funding in our schools, called for more youth-specific deescalation training of SRO’s and spoken out against the unnecessary use of Baker Acts on children in schools. In 2020, Carlos was part of a successful legislative effort led by House Democrats to include pre-school teachers in a $500 million teacher pay increase, but is committed to continue advocating for meaningful veteran teacher pay increases that continue to be left unfunded by the legislature.
"Representative Smith has been a longtime supporter of children’s safety, in particular a champion for gun safety. He has also continued to be a champion for the health and wellbeing of all of our youth, especially our LGBTQ youth."
Addressing Florida's public school teacher shortage
Florida is currently facing a 9,000 person teacher shortage crisis. The average Florida public school teacher only makes about $51,000 annually, while our state ranks 48th in teacher compensation nationwide. While Florida has recently increased starting teacher salaries, our veteran teachers have been left behind and nearly half of all K-12 paraprofessionals make less than $25,000 per year. We’ve got to pay our veteran teachers and support staff better if we’re going to recruit and retain them.
The recent passage of bills like HB 7 which prevent schools from teaching honest history, and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ which threatens professional ruin for educators who create inclusive educational environments for LGBTQ students is only making Florida’s teacher shortage worse.
Florida sends $ 1 BILLION annually to private schools. What are we getting in return?
Jeb Bush’s failed education policies have saddled Florida taxpayers for the last 20 years. Unaccountable charter schools run by for-profit charter management companies eat-up taxpayer money, have very little oversight, and continue to enrich developers and politicians in their favor. Florida spends $1 billion in taxpayer money annually on various private school voucher programs. These dollars fund both religious and non-religious schools, many with little to no educational standards.
In 2020, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found at least 83 private schools funded by vouchers had policies that expressly discriminated against LGBTQ students and LGBTQ families. This is not only wrong, but also another example of how voucher-funded private schools must be held to a higher standard.
The steady increase in state spending on private school vouchers has diverted resources and slowly defunded our public schools. Some of these voucher programs are worthwhile, including those that create opportunities for students with disabilities of from low-income households, but many other voucher programs must be reigned in and reevaluated. In the meantime, we will continue to use our platform to push for transparency and accountability at private schools funded with taxpayer resources.
In 2022, CS/SB 1048 was signed into law. This bill is an overhaul of Florida’s end-of-year assessment and requires state-level progress monitoring. It requires students to take three assessments throughout the year, with the third assessment replacing the Florida State Assessment as the end-of-year high-stakes assessment. Supporters of the legislation said this change will INCREASE testing for students during the transition with the goal of decreasing testing down the road. However, it was unclear if testing will actually decrease for students over time. As someone who has consistently made LOWERING the amount of student testing happening in our public schools, Carlos voted NO on CS/SB 1048.
Approximately 265,000 Florida public school students are still learning to speak English, and are consistently denied the opportunity to take standardized tests in their native language by the Florida Department of Education. The goal for these students has always been to learn English, but forcing them to take high-stakes examinations in a language they do not understand is unfair and counterproductive to the student’s academic progress. That’s why Carlos co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in 2020 to allow English language learners the opportunity to take standardized tests in their native language and he will continue to reach across the aisle to build momentum behind passage of this important legislation.