Kelly Smith Understands District 38’s Needs and Priorities
The Florida Constitution requires legislators to do only two things each year — develop a balanced budget and to fund safe, equitable, high quality public education. Properly funding and supporting public education must be Florida’s top priority. We have done a huge disservice to our public school system by trying to provide alternatives to high quality public education through the funding of charter and private schools with public money. We need to increase per pupil spending and pay teachers for the professional services they provide. We should also allow local school boards to set their property tax rates and control their own budget.
I believe that there can be a case for funding non-profit charter schools, especially those that are specialized to provide focused curriculum or services public schools can not provide at the same level. However, charter schools need to be held to the same standards as public schools. I do not believe that public school capital outlay funding should be distributed to charter schools, whether non-profit or for profit, or private schools. Our public schools need that funding to make sure we are providing the safe, equitable, high quality public education due to every Floridian through the state constitution.
My family has been impacted by the reduction in educational funding over the years. My kids were adopted through foster care as toddlers and have varying but significant mental health needs as a result of the trauma and neglect they experienced in early childhood. Over the years they’ve been in public school, nonprofit charters and even private school. The only reason my children have not stayed in public schools is because cuts in public education funding meant that their needs could no longer be met in public school. It’s a trade off I wish we didn’t have to make because I believe in neighborhood schools.
Florida’s poverty rate is 15.5%, which is more than 2 full points above the national average poverty rate of 13.4%. Here in Florida House District 38 the poverty rate ranges from 6.7% (Wesley Chapel) to 44.4% (Lacoochee). The median income rate is growing at a much smaller rate than the median property value rate. In some areas of FL House District 38 these metrics are actually declining. As a result, the income inequality gap just keeps getting bigger. And our legislators are ignoring the problem.
I believe we need to ensure that the state’s economy works for all Floridians. We are losing the middle class because the sectors where we see job growth are service and retail industries which do not pay a living wage and because we do not value labor unions. We need to grow in industries that pay a living wage, offer paid time off, and provide opportunities for career advancement. We need to strengthen our unions, not work against them. We need to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour now, not in 2026. We also need to expand affordable and workforce housing programs so that our teachers, first responders, and recent college graduates can afford to live and work in Florida.
I believe in science. Climate change is real and we have a moral obligation to preserve our natural resources for future generations. Florida should be looking at mitigation efforts that can be taken now to address the anticipated impact of rising sea level on future development.
We won’t have a second chance to protect our aquifer and water resources. This includes conservation of rural lands and wildlife corridors. As the Sunshine State, Florida should be leading the way in solar energy — both in use and in manufacturing. Florida can also be a leader in renewable energy research and development.
I believe that everyone has the right to high quality, affordable health care. In 2018 12.7% of Floridians were uninsured at some point in the year, compared to the national uninsured rate of 8.7%. And yet Florida continues to refuse to expand Medicaid. I would support Medicaid expansion and look for ways to make health care even more affordable.
We also have serious public health concerns in Florida that are not being adequately addressed. In Pasco County we are number one in the state in new cases of Hepatitis B and C and number four in new cases of Hepatitis A. Expanding the needle exchange pilot program currently operating in Miami and allowing it state-wide would help address this important health issue.