Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Florida teachers rally at state capitol

By Christina Kittle

Florida teachers rally at Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee,  January 13.

Tallahassee, FL – Well over 1000 educators, school bus drivers, custodians, counselors and other public school workers, dressed in red, rallied at the Old Capitol Building in Tallahassee on January 13 to demand lawmakers invest in public schools during the 2020 state legislative session. The 60-day legislative session begins January 14 and lawmakers will have a sea of red from the previous day to take with them to deliberation.

The rally was organized by the Florida Education Association (FEA), which is the statewide union for educators, and featured support also from the national unions the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

The demands followed the Fund Our Future Florida campaign, which was announced during the October 2019 Florida Education Delegate Assembly. The Fund Our Future Campaign is regarded as “The Decade of Education,” since it is a ten-year program with long term goals to lift Florida out of the bottom 10% in the nation for educational performance, as well as lift the state from 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The Decade of Education requires an immediate down payment from lawmakers, in the form of 10% raises for all public school employees.

Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a $600 million budget to go towards salary raises for new teachers. The Fund Our Future program challenges that and is demanding a $2.4 billion investment from lawmakers to grant raises to all employees, which would include not only new hires, but veteran teachers, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc.

In solidarity with Florida public school employees at the state capitol rally were faith leaders such as Al Sharpton, political leaders such as Republican and Democratic Caucus representatives, student organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society and the student president of the FEA, English Language Learner educators (ELL) and special needs educators, and union leaders from other states.

Some teachers were threatened by their district if they attended the rally. Polk County educators were told that if they took off, it would be considered a strike, which is illegal, and would cost them their job. Several Polk County employees were in attendance despite the threat, and they received an abundance of support from the statewide and national unions.

Jesse Sharkey, the Chicago Teacher’s Union president, came to the Sunshine State to speak about what it takes to not only organize, but to win. His words resonated strongly as he asked Floridians why it is not more common that we organize. He asked the crowd of angry, tired, but hopeful educators if Florida will keep building after the rally and reminded the crowd that strong unions are the tool to victory.

While a 10% raise is not enough to begin to fix the issues the Florida Public School systems face, the display of solidarity and willingness to organize, despite threats of job loss in some districts, is of much greater value in this struggle. As Chicago Teacher’s Union President Jesse Sharkey said, it is only the beginning. We must continue to strengthen unions and use them to fight back.

#TallahasseeFL #PeoplesStruggles #teachers #PublicSectorUnions #FloridaEducationAssociation #TeachersUnions #FundOurFuture