Press Release

Thousands to rally in state capital Jan. 13 for students, public schools

TALLAHASSEE — Thousands of public education stakeholders and supporters will “Take on Tallahassee” on Monday, Jan. 13, the eve of the 2020 legislative session. Demonstrators will carry their message straight to lawmakers’ doorstep, rallying in front of the Old Capitol to demand improved funding for students and schools, fair pay for all education employees, and an end to the misguided policies that have led to the over-testing of students and the loss of local control in our districts.

“This is about student success. This is about getting all students the public schools they deserve,” said Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA). “We have seen more than a decade of disinvestment in public education in this state, and that has to stop. It’s time to speak truth to power. We are holding lawmakers accountable for the situation they have created — for severe shortages of teachers and other school employees, for a lack of the counselors who help keep schools safe, for the loss of programs such as band and P.E., for overcrowded classrooms, for decaying buildings with leaking roofs. The Legislature must step up to do the right thing for our students and for Florida’s future.”

Organized by the FEA, “Take on Tallahassee: A Rally for Public Education” is expected to draw preK-12 teachers and education staff professionals, higher education faculty, graduate assistants, students, parents, community activists, faith leaders and other public-education supporters from throughout the state. Anyone who cares about Florida’s preK-12 public schools, state colleges and universities is invited to participate. All who attend are encouraged to wear “red for ed.”

Rally speakers will include a diverse group of teachers, students, school officials and other public education advocates along with teachers’ union leaders. (Find a full list of speakers and brief biographies below.)

On Monday, demonstrators will converge in front of the Old Capitol. A large contingent will march from the Tucker Civic Center, where participants traveling by bus from their districts are to assemble.


What:Take on Tallahassee: A Rally for Public Education

Who: Educators and supporters of public education

When:1:30-4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, with a march from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center starting at 1:30 p.m. and the Old Capitol rally program beginning at 2 p.m.

Where:Starting at the Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee, and moving to the front of the Old Capitol (also known as the Historic Capitol), 400 S. Monroe St.

Scheduled rally speakers:
(Listed in alphabetical order by last name. See below for biographies.)

  • Damaris Allen, president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA/PTSA
  • Angelina Gallesi-Schmitt, a Palm Beach County teacher
  • Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association
  • Adela Ghadimi, a graduate student at Florida State University and president of Graduate Assistants United at the university
  • The Rev. James T. Golden of Pastors for Florida Children
  • Fedrick Ingram, president of FEA
  • Zenani Johnson, a student at the University of West Florida and president of its Florida Student Association
  • Johanna Lopez, Orange County School Board member and a teacher
  • Suzie Martin, teacher and chair of the FEA Republican Cadre
  • Karen Morian, president of the United Faculty of Florida and a state college professor
  • Michael Mulgrew, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers
  • Jesse Sharkey, president of the Chicago Teachers Union
  • The Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist
  • Sophia Torres, a high school senior and student member of the Hernando County School Board
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
  • Jairus Williams, Florida A&M University student and president of Student FEA

Updated rally information: https://feaweb.org/january13/

The FEA sees growing dissatisfaction among education stakeholders after more than a decade of state disinvestment in public schools, and with state overreach in terms of local control of schools, the over-testing of students and a school accountability system that punishes poverty and whole communities.

The FEA Fund Our Future campaign, which began in early 2019, aims to turn the tide for public education in Florida. The Jan. 13 rally is one more step toward getting our students the schools they deserve. In fall 2019, FEA undertook a five-week Fund Our Future Bus Tour with the same goal.

Florida ranks among the bottom 10 states nationally in funding for students, and education spending remains below pre-recession levels. The average teacher salary in Florida has dropped to 46th in the nation, while many school staff earn a wage below the federal poverty line. We face growing shortages of teachers and staff such as bus drivers and paraprofessionals. Last August, more than 300,000 students started school without a full-time, permanent teacher.

Learn more about:

CONTACT:  Joni Branch, (850) 201-3223 

Speaker biographies

Allen, Damaris

Damaris Allen is the parent of two high school students in Hillsborough County Schools and a graduate of that public school system. She serves as president of the Hillsborough County Council PTA/PTSA and is the youth ministry director at St. James United Methodist Church.

Gallesi-Schmitt, Angelina

Angelina Gallesi-Schmitt is a world language teacher at Suncoast Community High School in Palm Beach County and a parent. A native of Peru, she graduated from Binghamton University in New York State. She began teaching for Palm Beach County’s public schools in 2017, having previously taught Spanish, French and Italian in a local private institution.

Garcia, Lily Eskelsen

Lily Eskelsen García is president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union. She began her career in education as a school lunch lady, then earned a teaching degree and spent more than nine years in the classroom in Utah, where she was named state Teacher of the Year in 1989. She is the first Latina to lead the 3 million-member NEA and one of the country’s most influential Hispanic educators.

Ghadimi, Adela

Adela Ghadimi is a graduate student at Florida State University (FSU) studying public administration and policy. She serves as president of Graduate Assistants United of FSU, a United Faculty of Florida (UFF) affiliate working to improve and protect the working conditions and rights of FSU’s more than 3,000 graduate employees, and as a vice president of UFF, representing 8,000 graduate assistants on its Steering Committee.

Golden, James T.

The Rev. James T. Golden is an attorney and pastor with a lifelong interest in public education, and is a member of Pastors for Florida Children, a group of faith leaders who have advocated for increases in public school funding and an end to voucher programs. Golden has been a leader in Manatee County for more than 25 years, serving as a Bradenton City Council member among other roles, and has worked as a substitute teacher across all grade levels in local schools. He is pastor of Mount Zion AME Church Port Tampa.

Ingram, Fedrick

Fedrick Ingram is president of the Florida Education Association. A product of Miami-Dade Public Schools, he has served as a music teacher and band director and was named Teacher of the Year in Miami-Dade. Prior to his election as FEA president in 2018, he served three years as the organization’s vice president and nine years as an officer of the United Teachers of Dade.

Johnson, Zenani

Zenani D. Johnson is a fourth-year student majoring in psychology at the University of West Florida (UWF). She began her work in advocacy and student government during her early high school years. She is the current chair of the UWF Florida Student Association (FSA) and the student representative for the Florida Board of Governors. In that role, she advocates on behalf of more than 400,000 students throughout Florida.

Lopez, Johanna

Johanna López was elected to the Orange County School Board in 2018 after a campaign fully run by current and former public school students. Previously, she served as an Advanced Placement Spanish teacher at Orlando’s Colonial High School for 19 years and was 2017 Teacher of the Year for Orange County Public Schools. She is a native of Puerto Rico.

Martin, Suzie

Suzie Martin is a parent and an eighth-grade English and journalism teacher at Crystal River Middle School in Citrus County. She also serves as the chair of the FEA Republican Cadre.

Morian, Karen

Karen Morian is a proud product of Florida public schools and our State University System, and she now teaches at a Florida state college. She has served her fellow educators as a state and national union delegate, as a senator and a local chapter president, as vice president, and now president of the United Faculty of Florida.

Mulgrew, Michael

Michael Mulgrew is president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and a vice president of AFT. He spent 12 years as a classroom teacher at Brooklyn’s William E. Grady High School, where he also served as UFT chapter leader. Mulgrew is a strong proponent of building alliances with parents and civic and community groups. 

Sharkey, Jesse

Jesse Sharkey became president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in 2018 and has been a member since 1998. Before becoming CTU vice president in 2010, he taught social studies for 12 years. In October, Sharkey led the union through a strike that won significant victories, including resources for homeless students, hard caps on class sizes, a nurse and counselor for every school, and a raise for educators.

Sharpton, Al

The Rev. Al Sharpton is a nationally known civil rights activist, Baptist minister, talk show host and politician. He hosts MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation” and his own radio talk show, “Keepin’ It Real,” and appears frequently as a guest on cable news television. Sharpton is the founder of the National Action Network, a not-for-profit civil rights organization based in New York City.

Torres, Sophia

Sophia Torres is a senior at Hernando High School in Brooksville and the student member of the Hernando County School Board. A dancer who also studies voice and piano, she plans to attend Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall to pursue a degree in music therapy. 

Weingarten, Randi

Randi Weingarten is president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT). A tireless activist for public education and social justice, she was elected to lead AFT in 2008 after serving as president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers. She holds a law degree, and has worked in and on behalf of public schools in her home state of New York as an attorney and an educator.

Williams, Jairus

Jairus Williams is a student at Florida A&M University studying to be a teacher and is scheduled to complete his degree in elementary education and teaching in 2021. Williams is president of the Student Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide organization that provides professional development and mentoring opportunities for aspiring educators.

Q&As for Florida Educators

Common questions about school closures, testing, students with IEPs, evaluations, certifications and more. Updated 3/31.

Digital Learning Resources for Educators and Parents

Resources for engaging students during the school closure

FEA Statewide Town Hall on COVID-19 

Video and transcript of March 25 town hall on the impact of coronavirus on Florida’s public education system.

Q&As and Resources for Parents

Common questions and resources for parents — including links for meals for students in need.

Advocacy Updates for

Ways for members to take action to protect students, educators, healthcare professionals and working people.

Member Benefit Resources and Links

Overview of the additional resources our benefit partners are providing to help members deal with the COVID pandemic. Updated 4/20 with Student Loan Forgiveness information.

AFL-CIO Survival Guide for Unemployment

A PDF guide for working people facing unemployment.

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