Teachers rally in Central Florida and across the state for better school funding

Teachers rallied in Orlando — and in communities across the state — on Monday, looking to support their union’s push for better funding for Florida’s public schools.

The “fund our future” events, sponsored by the Florida Education Association, aimed to persuade state lawmakers to put more money into public education. The events were staged just ahead of the Florida Legislature convening Tuesday for its annual session in Tallahassee, where it will hash out next year’s state budget.

Teachers want better school funding and better pay and worry that without it the state’s teacher shortage will worsen, according to the education association, which is Florida’s statewide teachers union. Florida shouldn’t rank in the bottom 10 states for per-student funding and teacher pay, especially when both factors make it hard hire and keep teachers, the union said in a statement.

Many of the more than 50 people who gathered at Lake Eola in Orlando wore red T-shirts that read, “Where have all the teachers gone?”

Rosemary De Gracia, a 32-year teaching veteran, resigned from her job as a second-grade teacher at Brookshire Elementary School in October, about three years earlier than she’d planned to retire. She was fed up with the workload, the lack of support for students and ever-escalating demands, she said. She joined the rally, she added, “because I want public education to succeed.”

Locally rallies were planned in Altamonte Springs and Lake Mary and statewide from South Florida to Tallahassee.

In Lake County, some teachers wore “red for ed” to school and others shared information on social media, said Stuart Klatte, president of the Lake County Education Association. They stressed the need for more school funding, more local — and less state — control of public schools and new ways to recruit and retain teachers, he said.

Union leaders said teachers are worried state leaders this spring will expand scholarship, or voucher, programs that send students to private schools and boost support for charter schools, which are public schools run by private groups. They want more money for traditional public schools and a focus on teacher pay, not bonus programs.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and leaders in the Florida Senate want to revamp the Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, deleting the controversial provision that tied the awards to teachers’ old ACT or SAT scores but retaining it as a key teacher reward.

But teachers want salary hikes, not bonuses, as bonuses provide only a one-year income boost, said Sandra Maldonado-Ross, president of the Seminole Education Association.

“Bonuses don’t help you make yourself stable in the community,” Maldonado-Ross said.

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