Public school paradox: voters question direction of public schools, but say they are OK with a teacher strike

by | Jan 21, 2024

A new poll finds skepticism over public education’s trajectory, but overwhelming support for expanding union rights for teachers, including the right to go on strike

A new poll taken late last year but only released last week shows Florida voters hold strong opinions about the state’s public education system. On one hand, voters say that Florida’s public schools are on the wrong track. But on the other, they don’t blame teachers on the front lines, and are even willing to tolerate local school teachers going on strike indefinitely so that they can win better pay and benefits in collective bargaining.

Surprisingly, the poll found that even a majority of Republicans share that same view, though the poll questions never went beyond a few superficial questions, so it’s not clear how much thought the respondents gave to the wide-ranging ramifications of a teacher’s strike. The poll failed to ask, for example, if voters with students in the public school system would support a teacher strike even if that meant the schools were closed during the school year for an extended period of time.

Under current Florida law, teachers are prohibited from going on strike, and have seen other drastic changes in union law, including a Republican-sponsored paycheck protection bill passed last year.

The poll, conducted by Mason Dixon from December 16 through December 20, 2023, with a sample of 625 registered Florida voters, has a margin of error of ±3.5 percentage points. It revealed that 54% of the respondents believe that Florida’s public schools are on the wrong track. However, 72% agree that teachers should have the right to strike for better wages and working conditions without facing legal or professional consequences.

Still, the results revealed some intriguing insights into the views among Floridians: dissatisfaction with the public education system’s direction but strong support for the rights and welfare of individual teachers. The dichotomy is reminiscent of the broader national sentiment where voters strongly disapprove of Congress as a whole yet often express support for their local representative.

Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, told The Capitolist even he wasn’t expecting quite so much support for union rights in Florida.

“When I saw the Mason Dixon information, I was surprised that 72 percent of Florida’s voters were saying that teachers should have the right to strike,” said Spar. “This should be a wakeup call to lawmakers and to the governor.”

Spar suggested that the poll’s results might have been influenced by voters who think that legislation passed last year went too far in limiting the rights of teacher unions like the FEA. The law, passed by Republican lawmakers and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, prohibited unions like the FEA from automatic payroll deductions from members, forcing the unions to seek direct donations in order to raise funds.

Republicans said at the time that the state shouldn’t be in the business of collecting union dues from teachers, particularly when those dues dollars have been used to help fund lawsuits against the state education system.

But the poll shows a broader tension beneath the state’s education landscape, underscoring the fact that the closer parents are to the public school system, the more favorable their views are towards it. The strongest anti-union sentiment captured by the poll came from voters who do not currently have children in the school system.

“People don’t like how teachers are being treated,” Spar said. “And therefore they should have recourse.”


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