Florida springs into action for public education

ORLANDO, Fla. -- “Make Our Schools a Priority” was the call from about 6,000 voices at a statewide education rally in here Feb. 28, the weekend before the legislative session begins in Tallahassee.

President Andy Ford of the Florida Education Association opened the energetic session by describing the billions that have been cut in the last 2 years from Florida’s education budget, pre-K through the University, and called for the legislature to take emergency action to pass a one cent sales tax for 3 years while the state tax system is revised. He and others pointed out that the children of Florida could not wait for the tax revision, which has been discussed for years.

The Florida Education Assoc. includes both National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers locals and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Everywhere signs and t-shirts rang with the slogan “Education cuts do not heal.” Cuts have been so severe by the state, that without a successful waiver, Florida will be one of three states that will not qualify for education stimulus money from the federal government. Some counties may shut down schools before the normal end of the year. Marion County (where Ocala is located) just announced that 522 teachers with less than four years experience are being laid off.

In addition to the meeting’s high energy, the breadth of a building movement was evident in the crowd and on the stage. Cheers rang through the University of Central Florida’s basketball arena, from the floor, the lower deck, and even from the upper deck as various county delegations were named: big counties, small counties from the Panhandle on the Alabama border to the Keys, and both coasts. The speaker list included the state presidents of the PTA and the NAACP, the superintendent of schools of Orange County (Orlando), chair of the school board of Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale), a state legislator, and the president of the Student FEA. Local demonstrations and letter writing campaigns have already sprung up. Calls by participants were made during the rally to the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House, urging action.

Before the crowd could return home, newspaper and TV websites across the state started posting their stories, often with interviews with local participants and a note on local schools (the News-Press of Ft. Myers, the St. Petersburg Times, WCTV of Tallahassee, and WESH of Daytona Beach to name a few). TV and newspaper stories followed. In addition to continuing the telephone campaign, a large rally is planned by the FEA and the state PTA for March 18 on the steps of the capital just 2 weeks into the legislative session. The website for the movement is www.MakeOurSchoolsaPriority.org.