By Susan Hardee Steger
November 22, 2019
The Florida Education Association and its member teachers, para-professionals, and support staff are gearing up for the upcoming state legislative session with a “Fund Our Future” state wide bus tour which arrived in Fernandina Beach on Wednesday, November 20. The Macedonia A&E Church opened its doors to local educators, elected officials, and the public to hear from various speakers on the challenges faced by Florida public schools.
Marian Phillips, leader of the Nassau County Para-professionals union, was first to address the audience on the importance of support staff, custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, cafeteria and maintenance workers. The tour arrived on “Education Support Professional Day,” a group of individuals left out of Governor DeSantis’ proposal to increase salaries for educators. Nassau County Superintendent of Schools, Kathy Burns, praised educators, and acknowledged support staff. “Try to run a school without them.”
As noted by the Florida Education Association Vice President, Florida ranks 43 out of 50 states in funding for public schools. Florida ranks 43rd in teachers’ pay, and 50% of education staff professionals earn poverty wages.
The President of the Florida Education Association, Federick Ingram, began his comments to emphasize the value of a teacher in childrens’ lives with a quote from Fredrick Douglas,. “It is easier to build strong children, than to fix broken men.” He called attention to the rise of teacher shortages. In August of this year, there were over 3,500 classrooms that do not have a certified teacher. In 2009, colleges of education graduated 8,000 teachers. This year only 2,000 graduated. Upcoming students are making a decision not to become teachers. They realize student loans must be paid, the cost of medical insurance is increasing, so teachers can’t support a family on teacher’s pay.
Superintendent Burns is encouraged by what she sees in the Desantis’ budget proposal but she is concerned that more unfunded mandates, which require a local government to perform certain actions, while providing little or no funding from the state to fulfill the requirements, will continue to impact Nassau County Schools’ budget. An example of a mandate not fully funded involves school safety. Burns said this state’s requirements are creating a “police department” within public schools but funding from the state is not enough to cover the cost. The governor’s push to raise the starting pay for new teachers to $47,000, even though state support will be given, could have an impact on salaries of other personnel and that will not be funded.
On January 13, 50,000 educators, parents, clergy are expected, to march to the old capitol building to call attention to the lack of funding for education.