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This Labor Day, let’s renew our commitment to students, educators and public schools

Instant Photo Poster
Andrew Spar

President, Florida Education Association

Monday, September 6, 2021

This Labor Day, let’s renew our commitment to students, educators and public schools

Our country was founded on the premise that in order to protect our democracy, we need an educated electorate. It was our Founding Fathers who established the basis of public schools — an American idea.

Today, millions of educators nationwide continue this mission, even in the middle of a pandemic, ensuring that every child in our great country gets the world-class education they deserve regardless of race, background or ZIP code.

Labor Day, a national holiday since 1894, celebrates the bravery, dedication and advocacy of working America, including the hundreds of thousands of educators in the state of Florida.

Across the nation, teachers have been coming together since the 1800s to advocate for a brighter future for their students and their profession. They joined in union as part of the budding American labor movement in the early 20th century.

Here in the Sunshine State, the Florida Education Association got its start in 1886. Just teachers were organized initially, but education support staff would soon join in. From the beginning, teachers and education staff have been driven by shared core values: We care about every child who gets on our school buses and enters our classrooms, and we embrace our obligation to speak up for children and ensure that Florida’s public schools truly live up to the ideals laid out by our nation’s founders.

The work continues today with new urgency.

At the start of the school year, there were nearly 9,000 vacancies posted for positions in Florida’s public schools. That breaks down as 4,961 teaching vacancies and 3,753 vacancies of support staff such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, secretaries, maintenance workers, paraprofessionals, custodians and others.

In practical terms, that translates as around 450,000 students who started school this year without a full-time, certified teacher in their classroom. It plays out as districts that can’t provide reliable, timely transportation for students because there simply aren’t enough bus drivers.

In the broader picture, these vacancies underscore the challenges our state faces to meet Florida’s constitutional requirement for a free, high-quality and uniform system of public education.

What do teachers and staff want?

They want fair and equitable pay. Florida’s teachers rank 48th in the nation in average teacher pay, and wages for Florida’s support staff rank near the bottom as well.

Educators want job security, so they don’t face the threat of losing their employment when they speak up for kids. They want respect for their expertise and experience and to be able to make decisions, as they are the ones who know the names and faces of the students they teach.

They also want the freedom to teach without the threats and intimidation that are often faced today by educators from pre-kindergarten to graduate school. We all know that our children deserve high-quality and experienced teachers and staff working in our public schools. Our children deserve full-time, certified teachers.

If we work together, we can ensure that we keep the best teachers and support staff in our public schools rather than watching them seek jobs elsewhere. We can recruit new teachers and staff to fill the overwhelming number of vacancies in Florida’s school districts.

This Labor Day, let us, as a state, double down on our founders’ vision of a democratic republic grounded in an educated citizenry ensured by strong public schools.

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