I grew up the son of a bus driver and construction worker, the fifth of seven kids born into a working-class African-American household in South Miami Dade.
We didn’t have much money, but my parents and grandmother made sure we took our education seriously. I was blessed to have great public school teachers who poured their energy, time and love into me.
Without them I wouldn’t be running for Governor today — and next year as Governor, we’re going to give all of our teachers and support staff the raise they deserve. From setting a statewide floor for new teachers’ salaries of $50,000, to bringing every public school instructional teacher up to the national salary average of $58,000, and making sure veteran teachers are compensated for their years of service, it’s time our teachers get paid appropriately for doing some of the important work in our society.
Right now, they’re woefully underpaid, and many are struggling to provide for themselves. Miami-area teachers can only afford 9 percent of houses in that area. In North Florida’s Gadsden County, the average teacher makes only $35,474. And nearly half our households struggle to make ends meet.
The bottom line is that teachers today are making less than they did in 2000. We now rank 47th in America in average instructional staff salary. Next year we may fall to 50th — dead last in America.
So as Governor, I’m going to inject new revenue into the state budget by legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana.
In 2016, 71 percent of voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana usage. I’ve been outspoken on the need for Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature to get their act together and finally implement that system.
And now is the time to reform our criminal justice system by legalizing recreational marijuana and taxing it to generate badly-needed new revenue.
Colorado provides a great case study on the benefits of legalization. In 2017, they collected $247 million in marijuana tax revenue in a state of about 5.06 million people in a corner of the country where five states have legalized recreational marijuana.
If we scale up Colorado’s model to the Sunshine State, the potential new revenue is extraordinary. We live in a state of more than 20 million people, and there are no other states near us that have legalized recreational marijuana. We could raise anywhere from $900 million to $1 billion in new annual revenue — and that doesn’t include new economic activity from people no longer incarcerated for simple possession crimes, or low-level marijuana offenses.
In my first term as Governor, we’d phase in a new instructional staff and support staff pay raises each year over four years, to make sure we’re giving local jurisdictions time to implement and adjust. But make no mistake — I will pass a teacher pay raise in my first Session as Governor. Our teachers are in the midst of an economic crisis, and if we don’t act with the urgency this situation requires, we could continue seeing alarming headlines like these:
Paying our public school teachers and support staff isn’t a partisan issue; an overwhelming majority of our kids go to public schools. Public education is a cornerstone of the compact between our state’s government and our citizens.
Our students are bringing troubled home situations, food insecurity, and aging textbooks into the classroom — and we entrust our teachers to mold and shape their minds and lives. It’s time we rewarded that critical work with the salaries and pay raises it deserves.