Sharpton joins in protest for increased teachers’ pay
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Reminding Florida politicians that a recent rally led by Florida Education Association was big enough to get the nation’s attention, Rev. Al Sharpton decried the salary that the state pays its teachers.
Most of the 15,000 public school personnel were at the Capitol for the rally last Monday, a day before Gov. Ron DeSantis gave his state of the State address on the eve to the start of a two-month legislative session.
“We want the state legislators to know that just like the nation watches Florida for other reasons it is a moral outrage that you do not give equal pay to those that work in public education in this state,” said Sharpton, who spoke as president of the National Action Network.
His audience of educators and their supporters stretched over the entire front of the Capitol – from Madison Avenue to the south and Jefferson on the north. Most of the teachers wore red t-shirts and created a sea of red on their march from the Civic Center to the Capitol.
Sharpton marched side by side with Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association. Both men spoke, as did a lengthy list of top-ranked state and national education representatives.
The sticking point of the teacher’s argument is the low starting salary statewide. They used the protest to call for at least $47,000 annually, which would move Florida from being ranked one of the lowest paying states in the country.
“The most important voice you’re going to hear is your voice,” Ingram said. “The most important story that you would tell is yours.”
He reminded his listeners that they are the ones who are compassionate with the children they teach. Then, he went on to list some of the affects of low pay, including “being crushed by student debt.”
Ingram went on to say, “We are those who are being crushed by sky-rocking healthcare; by rents and mortgages that we cannot afford, by dilapidated school buildings in our counties; not having enough technology for our students, libraries being closed, librarians being squeezed out. Today we demand more to fund our future.”
Months before the rally Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a salary-increase package that includes bonuses. On the same day that the teachers were protesting, a bill cleared the Senate Education Committee, an indication that the politicians that the teachers appealed to might be hearing them.
During his state of the state message, DeSantis said that 2020 will be the “year of the teacher.”
However, the package he presented to the legislators doesn’t exactly work for the FEA. One of Ingram’s contentions is that people such as the custodians and bus drivers aren’t considered in the proposed funding.
“What we are asking for a 10 percent raise for ever single school employee in the state of Florida,” Ingram said.
He asked the politicians to sign off on a $2.4 billion budget for education that would go to things like funding band classes, science labs and give teachers the resources they need.
DeSantis’ plan calls for approval of pay incentive of $900 million. That would include a $300 million bonus program along with starting salary of $47,500.
But even with the Senate’s approval of the bill backed by Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican and Senate Education Chairman, Democrats don’t seem to favor all aspects of it. They’ve proposed an opposing bill that would include pay increases for all education personnel, including custodian workers.
“It is no surprise that this day has come, especially when students are put on the back burners,” said Jairus Williams, student president of Florida Education Association and a junior elementary education student at FAMU. “Educators are paid inadequate salaries and schools are not getting equitable resources.”
While most of the protestors didn’t speak at the podium, their sentiments were obvious by the placards they carried. One read: “If we were 46th in football, it’d be a problem.”
“I support my students… I should be able to support my family,” was scribed on another.
Ingram said having proper funding for education would help children “learn at their maximum potential.”
“That’s what we want for every child,” he said, asking the house leaders and senators to call him. “We want to talk,” he said.
Teachers also made the case for a salary increase, pointing to the fact that there is a teacher shortage. More than 3,000 classrooms don’t have certified teachers.
“It’s time for Florida to stand up and stand out and represent what is best in this country,” said Sharpton. “It’s trouble when folks work and don’t get the pay they deserve. It’s trouble when we elect state legislators that can fund everybody but those that are building the future of the country.”