STATEWIDE — Teachers in Florida cannot strike or walk out, so they have come up with a different way to get their message of funding across to lawmakers with a statewide "walk-in."
- Teachers, students, school officials devise "walk-in"
- Officials say walk-in is to highlight need for student funding
- Florida Education Association is organizing event
Teachers, staff, students, and parents at schools from Pensacola to Key West held the "walk-ins" Wednesday, wearing red to push for more funding for Florida's public schools.
The Sunshine State ranks among the bottom 10 states nationally in public school funding, according to a Pinellas County teachers association.
The walk-ins come as lawmakers are beginning to put together the education budget for next school year.
At the crack of dawn, the Brevard Federation of Teachers put up a banner on the walkway bridge to Fairglen Elementary School that said, "Fund our future."
"Today, we're having statewide walk-ins, trying to get the legislature to increase funding for public education," federation President Anthony Colucci said. "Here in (Brevard), we have about 50 walk-ins and about 400 statewide."
The Florida Education Association organized Wednesday's walk-in to let lawmakers know that public education has been neglected for too long.
Mike Gandolfo, the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said Florida falls behind almost every state when it comes to funding public education, ranking 46th in the nation for teacher salaries.
"Public education is very important to every single citizen," Gandolfo said. "It doesn’t matter if you have kids, if you don’t have kids, if you send your kids to private school. It doesn’t matter, because when you’re elderly and you pick up that phone and say you’ve fallen and can’t get up, you expect that somebody with an education is going to show up and knows how to do that job and is going to be there to help you.
"That’s what we pay for. That’s where our tax money is supposed to go," Gandolfo said.
A state bargaining law that passed in the 1970s made it illegal for Florida teachers to strike or walk out. According to the FEA, striking can lead to termination, losing retirement benefits, or probation, and the union can be financially penalized.
"We need $743 more per student that would take us out of the bottom 10 in education funding in the country," Colucci said. In the meantime, those in the walk-in want the Florida Legislature to accept the education budget the Senate has devised, which would add $1.1 billion in education spending, which comes to about $350 per student.
Fairglen pre-K teacher Daniel Bennett said being part of the walk-in was his way of showing support for public education and the needs for more funds.
"If we have world class family vacation destination, we should have world class family education," Bennett said.