TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – When it comes to education funding, Florida Democrats gave Republican Governor Ron DeSantis a failing grade.

“Under Ron DeSantis, Florida has fallen to one of the lowest funded education systems with the lowest teacher salaries,” said Scott Hottenstein, president of the Democratic Public Education Caucus of Florida. “We can and we must do better.”

The Florida Democratic Party also picked Jennifer Jenkins to respond to the governor’s speech at the Moms for Liberty first national summit because she defeated the group’s co-founder Tina Descovich in a 2020 Brevard County School Board Race.

“Education is supposed to be the ladder to the future for our kids, but it seems the only future Ron DeSantis cares about is his own,” Jenkins said.

Florida Democrats said the state’s average teacher pay ranks 48th in the nation. According to the state’s largest teachers’ union, there are 9,000 teaching vacancies statewide.

“In less than 30 days, hundreds of thousands of students will face a revolving door of substitute teachers while our governor continues to brag about a surplus,” Jenkins said, “So this tells me that our teacher shortage crisis is a Ron DeSantis decision.”

Next month, Hillsborough County voters will decide whether to approve a one mil property tax increase that school district leaders said is needed to bring in additional revenue to recruit and retain teachers.

“Since the Republican state legislature and governor wont adequately fund education,” Jenkins said, “School districts are now forced to go to the voters through tax referendums.”

Jenkins said the Moms for Liberty members don’t represent the majority of Florida parents.

“Right now our governor is across the street with a self-described grassroots organization who claimed to speak for the majority. An organization whose very existence only originates from the founders being voted out of office by a majority of voices,” Jenkins said. “They serve as a tool of distraction for the DeSantis administration as he works with his legislature to dismantle our public schools.”

A small group of LGBTQ+ Democrats staged a protest outside the Moms for Liberty convention to rally against what they call a “radical and discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.”

While Moms for Liberty support the Parents Rights in Education bill signed by Governor DeSantis, the protesters view the legislation as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

“And when those kids go to school and aren’t allowed to talk about who they are where they come from, that’s discrimination that’s not what our country is based upon,” said Luis Salazar from the Hillsborough LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus.

On Saturday, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker will headline the Florida Democrats Leadership Blue Gala in Tampa, adding to speculation he may run for president in 2024.  

The Moms for Liberty convention also continues through the weekend.