A graduate himself of our Florida public schools, Carlos is committed to making sure schools have the resources they need to provide all students a quality education. 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 veteran teacher pay increases that were 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."
COVID-19 and School Re-opening
Decisions on how or when to re-open our public schools during a pandemic are difficult and complex. But those decisions should be made locally, in consultation with health professionals and without political interference or intimidation from Tallahassee. Carlos supported the OCPS board decision to seek a waiver from the state’s mandate for face-to-face instruction to resume in August.
As high numbers of new Orange County COVID-19 cases continued to be reported along with high positivity rates, in my opinion, its prevalence in our community appeared too high for students, teachers or classified employees to safely return to brick and mortar schools in August 2020. We all want what is best for our kids, including some of our most vulnerable who remain disadvantaged by distance learning, who cannot afford to fall behind and who must return to brick and mortar schools as soon as safely possible.
Tallahassee must allow local school boards to make local decisions in the best interests of their communities. Until we fully understand the academic and emotional impact that COVID has had on our students, the state must hold our kids, teachers and schools harmless from standardized testing for at least one academic year. Carlos will continue to urge Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio to pass the HEROES Act, which will send billions in additional funding to public schools to keep our students, teachers and communities safer from COVID-19.
Education Privatization is Not Working
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.
The steady increase in state spending on private school voucher entitlements has diverted resources and essentially defunded our public schools. They must be reigned in, held to higher standards and should be required to open their doors to every student– including LGBTQ children. In the meantime, we will continue to use our platform to push for transparency and accountability at private schools funded with taxpayer resources.
Standardized Testing Fairness for English Language Learners
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.