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Florida Teachers Take To The Capitol For More Education Funding, Pay Hikes

A group of people in red shirts carry white signs

Florida’s average teacher salary is among the lowest in the nation. The Florida Education Association says the state suffers from high turn-over rates and teacher shortages. The teachers union wants to change that and Monday, it brought educators from across the state to the Florida Capitol to demand more funding for education.

Teacher salaries vary across the state. They depend on where a teacher lives, what district they teach in, and how long they’ve been in the profession.

“Less than $45,000 and I’ve been teaching for 11 years,” says Jacksonville teacher Tiffany Bazemore. It should come out to $67,000,” says fellow teacher Dora Raymos.

“Right now I would say that I’m over $50,000 but less than $70 [thousand],” says Orlando teacher Lisa Camacho Szeto.

The current proposal from Governor Ron DeSantis would put the minimum salary for new teachers at $47,500. Some districts are already at, near or above that level. Many others are well below.

However, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Matz says DeSantis’ proposal doesn’t cover everyone.

“He only talked about beginning teachers. He did not talk about the rest of the educational community. We’re talking about paraprofessionals. We’re talking about the security monitors. The clerical workers. Everybody that’s part of our educational community. The veteran teachers,” Hernandez-Matz says.

“I have no children. I will never have any dependents, but I am here. These are my future,” says Rain De Lima motioning to two students beside her. She's traveled to Tallahassee from Miami, where she’s taught for 34 years and earns about $70,000.

De Lima says that's not enough to cover the cost of living in Miami.

A report from the website GoBankingRates.com says in order to live comfortably in Miami, a person needs to make more than $100,000 a year. The average income is about $34,000.

DeLima says it’s not just the pay that upsets her, but also cuts to positions like her school’s librarians.

“I don’t know when last I’ve seen my students check out a book,” she says.

Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram is pushing for more than just pay hikes. He says DeSantis’s proposed budget doesn’t address some of the deeper issues in Florida’s school system—issues Ingram says those who’ve worked in education for years know intimately.

“He needs some help,” Ingram tells the thousands of teachers gathered at the stone steps and under the red and white striped window awnings of Florida’s historic capitol building. “And we’ve got a bunch of teachers out here who could help you [DeSantis] with a lesson plan.”

Besides demanding higher pay for teachers who aren’t just starting out, demonstrators emphasized the need to increase overall education funding.

“Special education, English language learners, reading programs for children in deep poverty…education is our national, community good,” says Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.

There are now three main teacher pay plans pending before the legislature. DeSantis’, another by Senate Education Chairman Manny Diaz that gives districts a lump sum to spend on salaries, and a proposal by Democrats to would cover teachers and other school personnel with an initial 3% cost of living bump, followed by 4.5% pay hikes for the next 10 years.

The rally comes a day before the start of the 2020 lawmaking session. Over the weekend the Florida Department of Education issued advice to Polk County Schools at the request of the district’s superintendent. The department warned public employees, including teachers, are barred from strikes and walkouts under state law and could lose their jobs.  

“This is not even a strike,” says Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, responding to a question about the DOE’s response. “These are teachers showing up to be recognized…that’s what they’re here for today. And we need to pay attention to that.”

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.  
Victoria is from Orlando, but spent her childhood in San Antonio, Texas and outside the D.C. area. She is currently a junior at Florid State University studying Communications and minoring in Political Science. Before coming to WFSU, Victoria was a staff writer at the FSView and a volunteer at the campus radio station WVFS. When she’s not at school or writing, Victoria enjoys baking, watching documentaries and playing video games to de-stress.