“Wanted: Teachers and support personnel for Florida public schools. Below-average salary, overcrowded classrooms, benefits reduced annually. Apply to Governor Jeb Bush.”
Thus read six roadside billboards across the Sunshine State, placed by the Florida Education Association. The blunt criticism comes as Gov. Bush begins his campaign for re-election in November 2002. Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is seen as his most likely Democratic opponent.
The FEA feels Florida has failed to spend enough on education under Gov. Bush’s watch, said David Clark, a spokesman for the Tallahassee-based union.
Union leaders complain that Gov. Bush has spent too little on early-childhood programs, has let the state slip to 31st nationally in average teacher pay, and has not worked to make classes smaller—charges the GOP governor disputes.
In response to the billboards, Gov. Bush accused the union of being purely partisan, and said union dues were used for attempts to thwart his education initiatives.
“That’s what those hard-earned union dues are paying for,” the governor said in a campaign statement. “They are a partisan political operation, and for anyone to suggest otherwise isn’t facing reality.”
Amid such complaints by Republicans about the FEA’s political alignment with Democrats, the union reacted strongly to a proposal by Commissioner of Education Charlie Crist about deductions from union members’ paychecks.
The Republican commissioner had called for withholding state funding from school districts if they failed to prove that deductions from union members’ paychecks were not being used by the union for political activities. Mr. Crist has since backed off that proposal.