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Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls stake out positions on education and culture wars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nearly 1.3 million Floridians have already cast a ballot ahead of the August primary slated for next Tuesday.

Without a GOP challenger, the only question in the governor’s race is who will take on Ron DeSantis in the November general election.

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Whether it’s school safety, the teacher shortage or culture wars in the classroom, education is on the mind of many voters this election cycle.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist both told us better pay for teachers is at the forefront of their education agendas.

According to the Florida Education Association, the school year is starting with more than 9,000 teaching vacancies.

Here in Duval County, the school system is short nearly 400 teachers.

Fried, who currently serves as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, argued the demand on teachers is too high and the pay is too low.

Her plan calls for doubling per-pupil spending over the course of four years if she’s elected.

“That way every teacher gets a salary increase. Not these bonuses and not just for new teachers,” said Fried.

Her opponent, Congressman Charlie Crist (D-13th District), said it’s embarrassing that average teacher pay in Florida is among the lowest in the country.

Read: Duval school board to vote on $8.7 million metal detector contract for high schools Tuesday

“So, you got to reorganize where your money is spent because that reflects what your values are. Our values need to be that we respect our teachers, that we pay them more than we are now,” said Crist.

Culture wars around race and LGBTQ issues have consumed much of the education conversation over the past two years.

Fried said she intends to get state government out of those debates.

“And so, what we have to be doing is going back to the basics. That we need to let local governments do what they do best. They are the voice of the people because they are the closest to the people,” said Fried.

Crist argued culture wars have been taking away from the pocketbook issues facing Floridians.

“Well, I think you fight for the things that people actually do care about. They do care about the fact that Florida is unaffordable,” said Crist.

Action News Jax sat down with both Democratic candidates to flesh out their platforms, and we’ll be highlighting their answers throughout the week.

On Tuesday, we’ll hear from the candidates on how they plan to address pocketbook issues, including property insurance and affordable housing.

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