Protesters urge lawmakers to make education a priority

Teachers and activists gathered en masse in front of the Historic Capitol on Monday. Photos by Titilayo Okuwa

On the eve of Florida’s 2020 legislative session, thousands of educators and supporters from across the state rallied at Florida’s Historic Capital demanding more funding for education.

Amid threats of mass teacher terminations, a sea of thousands sporting “Red for Ed” accompanied by keynote speakers the Rev. Al Sharpton and other state leaders. Their goal: to set the agenda for this year’s session.

“We can’t have a quality nation if we don’t have quality students,” Sharpton said. “And we can’t have a quality student if we don’t have quality teachers.”

The roaring crowd applauded Sharpton, who said the Sunshine State needs to let the sun shine on education. Advocates for the movement claim Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed increase in starting salaries for teachers from $39,000 a year to $47,500 is insufficient to remedy what they call a 20-year disregard for public education. Scott Hottenstein, a candidate for House District 57, says DeSantis’ “year of the teacher” is a farce.

“I think the governor needs a civics lesson. His proposal isn’t workable under the way we currently pay teachers,” he said. “In order for his pay raise to work they just need to put the money and fully fund education through based student allocation and that money will go to where it needs to be.”

The march completed the Florida Education Association’s five-week “Fund Our Future Bus Tour” when educators arrived at the Civic Center before marching en masse to the Historic Capitol. The organization is advocating for more funding, equal increases in teacher pay to veterans as well as new entries and more resources to educate students holistically.

During the rally, education appeared at the top of the agenda for a Senate committee meeting.

Students, parents and educators joined Sharpton, Fred Ingram, president of FEA, Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, and many other state leaders who echoed their appreciation for the efforts of the governor but say it’s just an attempt.

Jamie Grant, a candidate for state representative in Hillsborough County, says she’s been teaching for 12 years and is running to improve education.

“We have a trillion-dollar economy, so when they tell us they don’t have the money, they do,” she said. They just don’t want to spend it on education because they know when we’re educated, we go out and vote and we vote them out.”

The crowd hoped to send its message to the legislative body as lawmakers begin creating this year’s budget.