Teachers at almost 400 schools across 40-plus Florida counties participated in “walk-ins” aimed at pressuring lawmakers to increase school funding.
“We’re having statewide walk-ins, trying to get the legislature to increase funding for public education,” Anthony Colucci, president of the Brevard Federation of Teachers, told Bay News 9. “Here in [Brevard], we have about 50 walk-ins and about 400 statewide.”
Longtime teachers like Diane Marks dressed in “red for ed” and held signs as they marched onto their school grounds.
“I think it sends the message to our politicians that we know we’re underfunded,” she told Florida Today. “We want to make students a priority, but they’re not making education a priority.”
According to Colucci, the Sunshine State ranks 46th in teacher pay and 42nd in per-student spending.
Lawmakers in the Florida House and Senate have proposed state budgets, but are at an impasse on public school funding.
The Senate’s plan would add $1.1 billion in education spending. In comparison, the House’s plan would only increase school funding by $600 million.
“We need $743 more per student that would take us out of the bottom 10 in education funding in the country,” Colucci said.
So even the Senate’s plan, which has support from state educators, falls short at about $350 per student.
“We’re $4,000 per student per year less than the average of the states,” Mike Gandolfo, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, explained to Tampa Bay area radio station WMNF.
Gandolfo visited a high school, middle school and elementary school to stand in solidarity with the educators and students.
“All the teachers came out, met at the flagpole in front of their schools, where the kids started to gather,” he said. “They were holding signs saying, ‘Fund Our Future.’ And basically they were sending a message to our legislators that while they’re up there debating about how much money they should put towards education, we’re reminding them that public education has been neglected long enough.”
Gandolfo went on to point out that these budget constraints don’t just hurt teachers and students.
“We have bus drivers, support professionals, cafeteria workers – we have a whole slew of our teammates, because takes thirteen years to educate a kid. It’s a team effort. It’s a collaboration unlike any other business. These are people that are making barely above poverty wages,” he said.
Education leaders came up with the “walk-in” as an alternative to strikes or walk outs, which are illegal in the state and could lead to termination or losing retirement benefits. But above all else, teachers said, the “walk-in” shows a commitment to their students.
“We’re not walking away from the children, we’re walking to them,” Marks said.
It remains to be seen what influence the “walk-ins” will have on lawmakers, who will vote on their final budget before the end of the legislative session in May.
With time still on the table, educators are asking everyone to step up and fight for more funding.
“We’re asking anyone who cares about our neighborhood public schools and our students to make some noise,” Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram told Click Orlando. “Our public schools have been on a starvation diet for more than a decade.”
William is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.