Teachers ‘school’ Fla. lawmakers on funding
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.
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.