How are the children?

I’ve asked people all over the state one very simple question:

How are the children?

It is the greeting of the Maasai Tribe in East Africa. Why do they greet everyone that way? Because it is a simple but accurate measure: if the children are doing well, then their society is doing well.

Unfortunately in Florida, our children are not well, and I’m running for Governor to fix the broken system that’s left them that way.

Under Governor Rick Scott, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) have careened from crisis to crisis. Last month’s tragedy in Parkland was the latest example of his agency’s negligence and failures.

The alleged shooter had demonstrated a variety of warning signs that should have led state regulators to stronger action — but after they interviewed him, they deemed him a low risk for harming himself or others. Afterwards, he legally purchased a firearm and committed the worst mass high school shooting in American history that left 14 teenagers and three teachers dead.

DCF is not solely responsible for the Parkland tragedy — but after eight long years of being underfunded or neglected by Rick Scott, this failure in dealing with Cruz underscores a deadly pattern of mistakes — mistakes that in one form or another have occurred with family after family, child after child for eight long years under Rick Scott.

Since, 2008 the Miami Herald found at least 477 child deaths in Florida from prior contacts, with the vast majority of them being under the age of five.

Governor Scott should have taken a better hold over this agency years ago, but instead it’s underfunded and understaffed, while our children are underserved.

Florida families deserve better than that, and when I’m Governor, I’ll make DCF the priority it must be so that our kids can do well.

Standing with one of our youngest supporters.

So while DCF serves our most at-risk kids, our public education system serves almost all kids. Instead of supporting that system, our legislators have been stealing from it.

In 2017, Republicans pushed H.B. 7069 through the Legislature at the last minute, prompting an Orlando Sentinel columnist to call it “legislation by scam” even as thousands of Florida parents and students vocally opposed it. The law funneled millions of tax dollars away from traditional public schools, and several school boards around the state are suing over it.

This year, the Governor signed H.B. 7055 into a law after the Parkland shooting, and it has the potential to devastate teachers’ unions even as other unions aren’t held to the same standards. Its provision allows the State of Florida to decertify a union if less than 50 percent of its membership pays their dues.

Republicans want teachers to have no voice. No seat at the table. While they over-test and underfund, they want to silence those best situated to call foul.

Greeting members of the Broward Teachers Union in Tallahassee after the Parkland shooting.

That cruel provision was removed in one Senate committee, but then later added back into the bill just days before the end of the Session. If you’re confused why some Florida legislators wanted to attack teachers unions, you’re not alone. Anna Fusco, the President of the Broward Teachers Union, said “My friends just got slaughtered for saving kids’ lives…”

The Governor and his Republican legislators have spent much of the last two years destroying the compact between our state government and the people that says it is our duty to provide a quality, public education for every kid, no matter their zip code. They’ve turned our system upside down, by calling teachers unions “evil” and moving your tax dollars into the pockets of unaccountable, for-profit schools and their executives — who sometimes have serious conflicts of interest.

So as I move around this state, the one refrain I hear consistently from Democrats, Republicans and NPA voters is a demand to fix our school system and help our children. I ask many of the kids I come across how are their grades, and whether they’re “A” students — because I know that every kid not only has to feel like that achievement is possible, but that they have the support from their elected officials to make it a reality.

When I take over in 2019, I’ll support and defend our public school students and teachers by actually investing in them. I’ve already proposed a transformational $1 billion investment into the things we know that not only mold great students, but also a great workforce:

—Early childhood education so we don’t miss the most formative developmental years for our kids;

—A much-needed raise for our teachers, including new ones, up to $50,000;

—New SHOP 2.0 vocational training programs so our students are prepared for high-tech jobs;

—And public school construction, to compensate for the disastrous effects of H.B. 7069, which force local districts to share school construction funds with unaccountable for-profit charter schools.

Public education is the bedrock foundation of my campaign; it’s only through a strong, vibrant state government that cares for children is a story like mine even possible — the son of a construction worker and a bus driver running for Governor of the third-largest state in America.