It is regrettable that Polk County public school teachers feared for their jobs when an estimated 600 of them traveled to Tallahassee on Monday to exercise free speech.
They joined teachers from around the state in a protest called “Take On Tallahassee.” The march was organized by the Florida Educational Association.
They were lobbying for better pay, fewer tests, improved working conditions.
In other words, the same things that lawmakers have been stripping from them for years.
An email from Florida Department of Education General Counsel Matthew Mears last Friday seemed to imply the “TOT” trip was tantamount to a strike. Since it’s illegal for teachers to strike, those taking part could lose their jobs.
That seems unlikely to happen.
Bravo for Republican House Speaker Jose Oliva, who tweeted, “Teachers, like all Americans, are entitled to petition their government and (Monday) we proudly witnessed the First Amendment in action…”
The fact that this became a thing at all, though, shows the exasperation teachers feel throughout the state. Veteran teachers especially bear the scars of Tallahassee’s game of whack-a-teacher.
But why, you may ask?
Isn’t Gov. Ron DeSantis pushing to raise minimum starting teacher pay to $47,500 a year through the state? In most school districts, that would mean a huge raise.
The Governor’s proposal faces headwinds though. Oliva has said he will give DeSantis’ request its due consideration but will have to balance it against other spending priorities and desires.
Well, that’s politics. That’s how the Legislature works.
But the fact that so many teachers were willing to travel to the state capital to raise their voices against even an implied threat shows the divide that remains.
This exasperation didn’t bubble up overnight.
Public school teachers have seen their resources dwindle while GOP lawmakers gave charter schools and voucher programs basically anything they wanted.
Many school buildings need major repairs. In Hillsborough County, where I live, chronic air conditioning breakdowns led voters to approve a sales tax hike to pay for improvements. Charter school operators immediately asked for a big piece of that pie.
Other counties experienced the same thing.
The message from Tallahassee, especially Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, is smug and condescending. He has said too many public schools are failing, and the antidote is charters and vouchers.
That’s a simple explanation for a complex problem over which public schools have little control. It ignores the impact a myriad of outside problems has on student performance.
We haven’t even gotten into mandatory testing.
Tallahassee keeps saying it will address that last issue.
Teachers are still waiting.
So yeah, lawmakers. You might want to cut teachers a little slack before implying they’re illegal strikers.
While you’re at it, spend a week as a sub in a classroom. Don’t do it for the cameras. Go incognito and see what goes into the daily life of a teacher. Spend a little time on the front lines.
Do that, and you know what?
You might be the next one to “Take On Tallahassee.”