#RedForEd: Florida Teachers Protest School Funding

On Monday, Jan. 13, thousands of teachers, parents and supporters from all over Florida marched from the Florida State University Civic Center to the State Capitol building to protest the lack of funding and resources for Florida public schools. Participants wore red to show their support for the cause and many of them carried homemade signs with messages like “Fund Our Future” and “Teachers Can’t Live On Apples Alone.” The Florida Education Association, the statewide teacher union that organized the rally, chartered hundreds of buses to transport teachers from across the state to Tallahassee. Some buses left South Florida at 3 a.m. for the 1:30 p.m. demonstration.

Courtesy: Tori Lynn Schneider

The state of Florida has consistently ranked among the lowest in the country for student funding since the mid-1990s. Among protesters’ chief concerns included lack of state and federal funding, low starting pay, poor teacher retention rates, unpaid overtime hours, huge class sizes, high-stakes standardized testing measures and a lack of certified teachers in the state. There are nearly 3,500 classrooms currently without a teacher in Florida schools.

 

Courtesy: Tori Lynn Schneider

“It seems that everything teachers have been fighting for has been disregarded,” said Lana Fenn, a Polk County math teacher who attended the event. Polk County School Board officials and attorneys came under fire this past weekend for warning area teachers that they could be fired and fined for attending Monday’s protest. According to the officials, attending the rally in Tallahassee classified as an illegal strike and was, therefore, a fire-able offense, but protesters argued that attending the rally was an action protected by the First Amendment. It is unclear at this time whether any Polk County educators have been punished for attending the Tallahassee demonstration.

Courtesy: Tori Lynn Schneider

Among those who attended the march in Tallahassee were Rocky Hanna, Superintendent of Leon County Schools, and Assistant Superintendent Deana McAllister. “We can never pay teachers what they deserve anywhere in the U.S.,” said McAllister. “We are the only profession that has to ask for a raise, but our impact is phenomenal.”

Courtesy: CD Davidson-Hiers

The timing of this protest by Florida’s teachers was no coincidence; the Florida state legislature convened for its annual sixty-day session on Tuesday, Jan. 14. At the opening session, Governor Ron DeSantis proposed to set the minimum salary for Florida teachers at $47,500. Florida state democrats criticized the plan because veteran teachers making more than $47,500 would not receive a raise under DeSantis’s plan, and the new salary minimum would not apply to most non-instructional school staff such as librarians and nurses. Nevertheless, DeSantis dubbed 2020 the “Year of the Teacher” in his opening remarks.

Courtesy: Tori Lynn Schneider

“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. Her presence at the event in Tallahassee was significant, as she is president of the largest union in the United States.

Courtesy: Serena Vck

“I believe in the value of public education and making it equitable for every student, no matter where they are,” said McAllister.

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