Hundreds of public school teachers from South Florida joined thousands from across the state Monday for a massive rally outside the state capitol demanding higher wages ahead of Tuesday’s start to the 2020 legislative session.
Buses left the BB&T Center in Sunrise before dawn, with teachers from Broward County joining those that left from Miami-Dade following a rally Sunday night at Tropical Park.
Teachers said their main issues are not being able to afford items for the classroom – including basic supplies like pencils and paper – as well as salary concerns, which have become a main focus of Governor Ron DeSantis’ platform for the upcoming session.
DeSantis has declared 2020 “the year of the teacher" and is proposing raising the minimum teacher salary to $47,500. House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano, both Republicans, have expressed concerns about DeSantis's proposal to raise the minimum teacher pay statewide, which would cost about $600 million.
While Galvano said raising teacher salaries is a worthy goal, taking a blanket approach to a state as large and diverse as Florida may not be easy.
“There are districts that have different levels of pay currently, you have different costs of living in certain districts, and when you go through and put it as a one-size-fits-all, then you can create some practical problems as well as some inequities,” Galvano said.
House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee agrees with DeSantis that teachers need raises across the board, but he thinks the state should go beyond the governor's proposal.
“Right now the thing I can agree with him on, is this is the year for the teacher,” McGhee said.
But McGhee wants to make sure veteran teachers aren't all of a sudden making the same as a new hires, and he wants to make sure the state keeps raising teacher salaries over the next few years.
He has a bill that gives all teachers a 5% raise, or brings them up to $47,500, which ever is greater. The plan also calls for raises in base salary or percentage raises the following two years.
The state's largest school union says the governor's proposal merely gives the illusion that he is addressing problems that have long plagued public schools, such as understaffing, crumbling facilities and low morale. The union said as many as 2,400 teaching jobs remain unfilled.
“I want to at least thank the governor for trying to understand that there is a problem” said Fedrick Ingram, the president of the 145,000-member Florida Education Association. “The unfortunate piece is that he has not taken the time to listen to practitioners, the people who are actually on the ground doing the work.”
Ingram said the governor's $1 billion proposal is far short of what is needed to restore funding for traditional public schools that was siphoned off in recent decades by voucher programs, charter schools and other budget cuts.
The rally comes as one Florida county attempted to clarify a report that their teachers would be fired if they went. Polk County Schools superintendent Jacqueline Byrd told NBC affiliate WFLA-TV that none of the estimated 1,300 teachers would be punished for participating – a statement that came after the Florida Department of Education sent a letter on Friday some deemed as a threat of that taking place.