Teachers Rally for Education

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Teachers Rally for Education

Thousands of teachers gather in Tallahassee in support of higher state funding for education.

Thousands of teachers gather in Tallahassee in support of higher state funding for education.

Michael Woods

Thousands of teachers gather in Tallahassee in support of higher state funding for education.

Michael Woods

Michael Woods

Thousands of teachers gather in Tallahassee in support of higher state funding for education.

Sarah Winters, Staff Writer

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Thousands of teachers gathered in Tallahassee on Monday, January 13th, to protest low teaching wages and a lack of instructor support that has been plaguing Florida since the 1990s.  The 1:30 p.m. rally was organized by the Florida Education Association Teachers’ Union in order to focus public attention on a deficiency of state funding for education.

Michael Woods, a science teacher at Santaluces and member of the Florida Education Association Governance Board said, “We are wanting to stand for school funding… realising that the teacher funding in the state of Florida has not increased in well over ten years and, with that, comes being able to recruit quality teachers, which is where the teacher pay comes in.”

In recent years Florida has struggled with a severe teacher shortage which has led to high rates of crowded classrooms and unqualified teachers. The state shortage has increased by 10% since January of 2019 and now has almost 2500 teaching positions unfilled. 

“Several of the plans that have come forward in the last few years have just not addressed the fact that we have a shortage. They’ve tried to recruit newer teachers but we also have veteren teachers.” Woods said. “We want funding to recruit, retain and really just sort of promote education in the state of Florida. They say you know where your priorities are based on where you spend your money and for a long time that priority has not been education.”

Florida governor, Ron DeSantis has pushed to raise minimum teacher salaries in Florida to $47,500 and bonuses ranging from $500 to $7,500 based on school grade improvements, and one-time awards of between $1,250 and $10,000. 

“I think that it is going to be something that will reward those folks who are working on behalf of students,” DeSantis said, “but also do it in a way that recognizes there are certain schools that have a need to have great teachers.”

However, this plan has remained unsuitable for veteran teachers. 

“It’s a good start to the conversation because pay does need to be addressed; however, can you envision if you raise first year teacher pay to 47,000 dollars in Palm Beach County? That could mean you have a first year teacher standing next to a tenth year teacher, and that tenth year’s their mentor. So I’m teaching you how to be a teacher but you are actually earning more money than I am.” Woods said. “So it’s sort of a disincentive to veteran teachers saying that you don’t value the veterans, the people who have been in the classroom for years.”

Kristy Mangone, a history teacher at Santaluces, had a similar opinion on the matter, “So the governor has expressed that he wants to fund public schools by supporting teachers and increasing pay, the trouble with the plan is that he has only indicated that he would raise the starting pay for teachers and that neglects veteran teachers.” said Mangone, “One of the things that we hope the governor recognizes is that you want to keep quality teachers in the classroom aside from just attracting new teachers.”

Florida is 45th state in the nation in terms of teacher pay with the average salary for starting teachers in Palm Beach County being $41,000 ($16,000 lower than the average Floridian salary of $57,000).

“We need to focus on respect for the profession. And pay is attached to that. It’s (teaching) definitely a career that people feel drawn to because of their personal convictions and passions but they shouldn’t be prohibited from chasing that passion because of a lack of pay,” said Mangone, “So by increasing the salaries hopefully we’ll be able to keep teachers who are passionate about education and don’t have to compromise their passion because they still have to put food on the table and take on a higher paying career in order to do that.”

Over 10,000 teachers from all over the state drove to Tallahassee in buses to attend the rally.  However, some counties tried to decentivize teachers from attending. For example, the Polk County Superintendent, Jacqueline Byrd, released an email from the state Department of Education saying that attending the rally constitutes as “an illegal strike under Florida law.”   

“That was infuriating to think there were counties trying to stop teachers or bully them into not participating.”, said Mangone. 

The rally was one of many steps needed to encourage legislative change and receive more state funding for education. 

“One of the quotes I heard that I really liked from the president of the FEA was “Make this moment the movement.” Woods said, “That was just a moment and if that event is the only thing we do then no (there will not be change), but I think we’ve really turned it into a movement…That can’t be the only thing we do. “