A Q/A with Florida’s next governor
Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for Florida's governor, is on a path to revolutionize Florida's education. He just needs to win first.
Andrew Gillum is coming for you, Florida. The 38-year-old Tallahassee Mayor has announced his candidacy for Governor of Florida, and is one of four candidates running in the Democratic primary, whose elections take place on Aug. 28. Gillum is running on a progressive platform that emphasizes increasing workers’ wages, expanding healthcare access and strengthening public schools. On June 3, highlights had the chance to speak with Gillum, who used the opportunity to spread his urgent message to high school students.
Once elected governor, what would you do to improve school safety?
I believe that our students should be able to go school and… be able to make it home safely without the threat of gun violence. I think that some of the things we’re gonna have to do is have school resource officers [SROs] on all of our campuses — and I think we can do that without making schools a prison, right? But, on the same token, we’ve got to address the ubiquitous access to guns. As much as I’d like to say that we can address this solely with hardening our campuses, the truth is that if young people are still able to get access to these guns — if they are still readily available in larger society — the threat will continue to exist on our campuses. Yes to SROs, yes to making sure we’re doing our due diligence to ensure that we’ve got safe campuses, and yes to addressing this gun epidemic that exists and the easy access to guns. Add some background checks.
How would you improve the quality of education in Florida’s public schools?
Well, I’ll tell you a couple of things. One, we’re going to invest in early childhood education and early learning to make sure that our kids are ready to start kindergarten [and] ready to learn. Second, we’re going to get rid of these high-stakes tests, which in my opinion don’t tell us what our kids know. It measures the wrong indicators. We need to unleash the potential of teachers to do the job that they were hired to do, which is to teach. And we also need to ensure we have the kind of curriculum in our schools that allow students like you and others to still be inspired to pursue the kind of curriculum that, if you’re on a college-bound track, you get access to that, but if you’re on a tack to get a skill that you can monetize [and then] get a job with, that we offer that as well.
Make sure that we have arts and art education available in our high schools. Again, that’s where the creativity lives; that’s where the innovation lives. I want folks to graduate from high school here and decide to live in the state of Florida and innovate and create right here. Unfortunately, we’re impacting that.
What do you think should be improved about how Florida currently treats education issues?
[The current governor’s] summary is that if the jobs don’t exist in the state of Florida, we shouldn’t have education that produces graduates who will flow into that job — and I think that’s problematic. It’s absence of vision, and my vision is that we ought to be looking toward the future industries that we want to create: the future innovation, which we can’t always describe. But, if we pour enough into our youth and inspire them to, again, innovate and create, who knows? The sky is the limit. We’re going the wrong direction with the public education in this state, and I’ve got some ideas about how to put us back on the right track.
I understand you are in favor of raising teachers’ pay. How and by how much?
I want to begin teachers’ salaries beginning with $50,000 a year. Right now Florida’s starting teacher salaries are lower than that of 40 of the other 49 states. That’s an embarrassment. We’re the third largest state in all of America and we have a teaching shortage. The first thing that we need to do is make sure we can recruit talented teaching professionals who are going to help equip our students with what they need in order to live out really strong, fulfilled lives. And you can’t get that if your teachers are living on wages where they can’t take care of themselves and their families and they’re basically moonlighting as retail workers to earn enough to pay their bills. We ought to be embarrassed about that, and I’ve got a plan to do something about it. Everybody else is talking about it, but I’ve actually put forth a way to pay for it as well.
What advice would you give to student activists?
I would tell you that this is not for the faint of heart. We’ve got to be clear that change does not happen overnight. We’ve got to be committed to this thing for the long haul. What they’re counting on, what the other side is counting on, is that this will only be a moment, and you’ll only be interested momentarily until the next fun thing pops up. And what we have to do is disprove that notion, and prove that you’re concerned sincerely and deeply about your future and that you actually plan to take the appropriate steps to make sure that you can ensure the future that you deserve. That’s what Parkland has been about, that’s what climate change and making sure you have an environment that you can inherit and have some reasonable expectation that you’ll be able to live out your lives without having to confront your homes going under water.
This is about your future. They’re counting on you to fall out, and what I want to encourage our youth to do is to prove them wrong. It begins in this election, and it will continue beyond — let’s make sure we create a lasting movement and not just a moment.