ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Teachers and faculty across the state joined parents and community allies for a “walk-in” Wednesday morning in support of increased funding for more state funding for education.
Educators legally can't walk out and strike, so the "walk-in" was their alternative to show they want state lawmakers to increase spending per student and raise salaries.
"We want our lawmakers to listen to us and know that our neighborhood public schools are worth investing in and securing our success," explained Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association.
Public education supporters wore red as they gathered at nearly 400 schools in 44 counties for the walk-in, which was organized by the Florida Education Association (FEA) and local educators’ unions.
"We’re asking anyone who cares about our neighborhood public schools and our students to make some noise," said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. "Speak now, before time runs out this session to do the right thing for Florida’s kids. Our public schools have been on a starvation diet for more than a decade, and you see the effects statewide -- in an unprecedented teacher shortage, in classroom crowding, in failing A/C systems and aging facilities. Legislators must make a significant investment in our schools, our students and the teachers and education staff professionals who work with and on behalf of those kids every day. We’re calling for an increase of at least $743 per student, about 10%, which still won’t lift Florida’s education spending to the national average."
An online petition has also been set up by the Florida Education Association calling for lawmakers to take action. As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the petition had more than 19,300 signatures.
According to the FEA, Florida ranks among the bottom 10 states nationally in funding for students, and education spending remains below pre-recession levels.
Teachers and organizers said they want to give students the best resources and recruit and retain teachers by being able to pay fair salaries.
"I hope they realize that the public education system isn’t broken. We don’t need charter schools or vouchers," Dillon said. "Everything we need is right here in your neighborhood public school and if you fund us appropriately, our students will be successful, have the resources they need and stop the slow drain of teachers."
The St. Johns Education Association said the "walk-in" was a positive initiative, showing that teachers are unified in their message to lawmakers. Teachers from Ketterlinus Elementary School in St. Augustine participated in the "walk-in" by standing outside with signs that read, "Fund our future" and "We love our public schools."
"I’m here to promote the fact that we need to fund our future. We need to fund the future of our children. We can’t do what we’re doing and expect a different result. We’ve done this for 20 years and we’re just seeing the decimation of public education," said Carole Gauronskas, secretary-treasurer for the Florida Education Association.
For Wednesday's walk-in, groups gathered 30 to 45 minutes before the start of the workday at schools. They picketed, prayed or shared coffee and doughnuts before employees then walked into school together.