Teach­ers ‘school’ Fla. law­mak­ers on fund­ing

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - James Call Tal­la­has­see Demo­crat USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE, Fla. — Teach­ers, par­ents and their sup­port­ers brought the Florida state cap­i­tal’s down­town to a stand­still Mon­day as they protested what they said has been a sys­tem­atic at­tack on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion dat­ing to the 1990s.

Thou­sands of pro­test­ers in red Tshirts, some car­ry­ing signs that said “I shouldn’t have to marry a sugar daddy to teach,” marched from the cam­pus of Florida State Uni­ver­sity to the state Capi­tol, block­ing traf­fic in the heart of down­town.

Some boarded buses in South Florida at 3 a.m. to be in Tal­la­has­see for the 1:30 p.m. Tal­la­has­see demon­stra­tion or­ga­nized by the Florida Ed­u­ca­tion Associatio­n (FEA).

The march and rally, fea­tur­ing na­tional la­bor unions, was de­signed to fo­cus pub­lic at­ten­tion on what teach­ers claim is the Leg­is­la­ture’s fail­ure to ad­e­quately fund pub­lic schools.

“There are 36 high schools with 1,000 stu­dents or more that fail to of­fer physics classes be­cause they can’t find cer­ti­fied teach­ers. And one out of eight English classes in this state are taught by un­cer­ti­fied teach­ers,” said Fedrick Ingram, FEA pres­i­dent, be­fore lead­ing marchers to the Capi­tol.

Florida ranks among the bot­tom 10 states na­tion­ally in fund­ing for stu­dents, with ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing be­low pre-re­ces­sion lev­els when ac­count­ing for in­fla­tion. And the state is 26th in the na­tion for start­ing pay, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Associatio­n.

The low spend­ing cou­pled with high­stakes test­ing of stu­dents, and the lack of con­sis­tent pay increases, has led to more than 3,500 va­cant teach­ing po­si­tions across the state.

“We’ve shown up, year af­ter year, hop­ing things will get bet­ter and all that has hap­pened is our class­rooms got big­ger, we lost our li­brar­i­ans and school nurses, and it has come to this, where we say enough is enough,” said Lily Eskelsen Gar­cia, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Associatio­n, who marched with the teach­ers.

Gov. Ron DeSan­tis is de­ter­mined to make the 2020 ses­sion the “Year of the Teacher.” DeSan­tis has pro­posed spend­ing $603 mil­lion to raise the state’s start­ing teacher pay, and an­other $300 mil­lion in bonuses for highly ef­fec­tive teach­ers.

“Around 101,000 class­room teach­ers will ben­e­fit from the raise in min­i­mum salary out of over 173,000 full time teach­ers in Florida,” DeSan­tis spokesman He­len Ferre said in an email. DeSan­tis “is strongly sup­port­ing Florida’s class­room teach­ers, par­tic­u­larly those ed­u­ca­tors who are younger and work­ing in schools that face greater challenges. To sug­gest oth­er­wise is an un­for­tu­nate dis­con­nect with re­al­ity.”

But leg­isla­tive lead­ers have been skep­ti­cal of the plan: “When you put it as a one-size-fits-all then you can cre­ate some prac­ti­cal prob­lems as well as some in­equities,” said Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Gal­vano.

Teach­ers are seek­ing a 10% across­the-board pay raise for all class­room teach­ers and school staff. And they are em­bold­ened by the abil­ity of teach­ers in Ari­zona, In­di­ana, Mas­sachusetts, Ok­la­homa and West Vir­ginia to pres­sure law­mak­ers to in­crease spend­ing.

TORI LYNN SCH­NEI­DER/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK

Thou­sands ral­lied and marched from the Don­ald L. Tucker Civic Cen­ter to the Florida His­toric Capi­tol on Mon­day to de­mand more money for pub­lic schools.

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