Last week, close to 15,000 public school teachers, support personnel and others sympathetic to their cause marched to the Florida Capitol and held a rally in the hopes of getting Florida lawmakers to spend more than the bare minimum on public education. It seemed that even after teachers took the extraordinary step of taking a day off of work to come protest in Tallahassee, that some lawmakers still just don’t get it. While I applaud Jose Oliva for pointing out the obvious fact that teachers have the right to assemble and protest, part of his statement made about the protest shows just how far in the sand many of Florida’s legislators have their heads.
Jose Oliva said he found it odd that we would choose to protest a governor and legislature that has committed to increasing teacher pay and spent record amounts on K-12 education in recent years. That rhetoric only works for people who live in a vacuum and don’t bother to look into how Florida’s spending on public education compares to other states. Saying Florida has spent record amounts on K-12 education recently would be a like a coach whose team has never won a game year after year stating after winning one game that they are now winning like never before. Florida ranks among the bottom 10 states nationally in per-student funding. One could understand the state of Florida spending so little on students if our economy was among the bottom 10 states nationally, but the exact opposite is true.
One quick look at Governor DeSantis’s pay proposal shows precisely why teachers from around the state came to protest. His proposal is to boost only starting teacher pay and to move anyone making less than them up to that level. His plan for veteran teachers is the possibility of a bonus, and his pay proposal does not include any other employees who work in Florida’s public schools. DeSantis’s own spokesman has said his pay increase proposal would not include roughly 70,000 of the state’s teachers. This pay proposal is yet another slap in the face to more than a third of Florida’s teachers. Currently, Florida’s average teacher pay is more than $10,000 below the national average teacher pay. Moving only starting teacher pay up will do little to move Florida’s average teacher pay closer to the national average. That is why teachers are so frustrated. Why aren’t Florida’s leaders giving all of Florida’s teachers a raise? We are not asking to be the best paid in the nation. Why doesn’t Florida want to pay its teachers the national average when the state’s economy is among the best in the country?
This latest slap in the face comes on the heels of many others. Florida’s teachers are currently paying 3% of their salary back to the state, along with other state workers, ostensibly for their retirement. The only problem is the money is being used like any other state revenue and not going directly into the Florida Retirement System. Florida recently passed a law requiring teacher’s unions to maintain more than 50% membership or be decertified. No other unions were singled out in this way. Florida has weakened the class size amendment that voters passed in 2002 so much as to make it virtually non-existent. When you add all of this to the nearly constant mandated testing and the low pay relative to other states, it is easy to see why Florida started this school year with around 3,000 teaching vacancies.
I cannot tell you how many teachers with 5 or 10 years’ experience I have seen walk away from the profession. This “Silent Strike” has been going on for years, where teachers just decide to turn in their keys one day after school. What good will it do to attract new teachers if Florida does nothing to keep the teachers it already has? Anyone who votes for the DeSantis pay proposal in its current form needs to realize it is a slap in the face to more than 70,000 Florida teachers. While we are used to these slaps in the face, we showed last week that we are done turning the other cheek.
Eric lives in Suwannee County and is a public school educator. He is an independent contractor. You can reach him at email@example.com.