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Teachers Rally in Orlando for Higher Pay, More Funding for Public Schools

Teachers rallied in Orlando on Saturday after demonstrating in Tallahassee earlier in the month. Photo: NeONBRAND @neonbrand
Teachers rallied in Orlando on Saturday after demonstrating in Tallahassee earlier in the month. Photo: NeONBRAND @neonbrand

About one hundred teachers rallied in downtown Orlando today against Governor Ron DeSantis’ plan to solve a statewide teacher shortage by raising teacher salaries.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has called 2020 the year of the teacher. 

Smith Middle School civics teacher Jessica Harrington-who is running for office in District 64-says she was originally thrilled with this declaration.

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Jessica Harrington. Photo: Danielle Prieur[/caption]

"We do need to support more teachers coming into the profession. We started the year with 3,500 vacancies across the state so we have to do something."

But Harrington says she doesn't agree with DeSantis' plan to raise the minimum starting salary for new teachers to $47,500.

"But the fact that the teachers that have been stuck here that have stayed in the profession and they will not pay them as well our veteran teachers that is a problem."

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Former Orange County Schools' Spanish teacher Rachel Bardes-now with Fund Our Future-says she's worried these raises won't be available to all teaching staff.

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Rachel Bardes and Elizabeth Moore. Photo: Danielle Prieur[/caption]

"Raise all teachers' and all educators' salaries. Right? Because no one in a public school is making enough money-what they should be earning-from media specialists to school counselors to our support staff. All of these people play such a vital role in the lives of our children."

Bardes says bonus programs are similarly unfair.

"We have Pre-K teachers who are judged by the same system and held to the same standards as other grade teachers. So if I teach Pre-K I get zero as a bonus but my first grade teacher friend gets $2,500. Is that fair?"

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Jefferson Middle School algebra teacher Brenda Sorensen says even with a higher salary or a bonus there's no guarantee that  teachers won't leave the profession.

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Brenda Sorensen. Photo: Danielle Prieur[/caption]

"Bonuses are never a good thing because it's not in the salary schedule. So bonuses really are not effective. Also I know many younger teachers that have taken the bonus and then they move to Georgia or they go to other places so it's not an effective way to fund education."

Sorensen says that's because education reform can't just end with changes to teacher pay.

"Funding is one thing for sure. But there's other issues within that need to be changed. Curriculum issues, discipline issues. You know we just established a mental health component. Which is amazing by the way and I love it and it's great material. But we were just given that to teach. I'm an algebra teacher. I have zero training in mental health."

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Orange County School Board member Johanna Lopez says teachers are holding these rallies with the legislative session in mind-as well as the 2020 election.

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A teacher holds a sign at the Orlando rally. Photo: Danielle Prieur[/caption]

Campaigners representing Democratic candidates Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders were in the crowd among the teachers.

"We want every elected official to know that we are here to support public education. We believe that our students deserve teachers with a good salary. And we believe that we have to vote for those elected officials that are in support of our public schools. If not we're not going to vote for them anymore."

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This week the Florida House and Senate approved the raise in starting salaries for new teachers but decided not to fund the governor’s bonus program.

Thousands of teachers rallied in Tallahassee last month to call on more funding for public schools.
If you'd like to listen to the story, please click on the clips above.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.