FEA: We look forward to finding solutions that truly meet students’ needs

TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. DeSantis releases his state budget recommendations for 2022-2023, the Florida Education Association (FEA) is looking ahead to the legislative session and what needs to happen for our students, educators and public schools.

“The budget that Gov. DeSantis has proposed flies in the face of what truly needs to be done to ensure that the strongest public schools in the nation exist here in Florida,” said FEA President Andrew Spar.

“At a time that calls for true leadership, when our public schools are in crisis, the governor offers more of the same. His proposal will not address Florida’s massive shortage of teachers and support staff. It fails the students in our public schools.”

For the third year in a row, Gov. DeSantis would raise pay for beginning teachers while leaving veteran educators and support staff behind. Two years into his pay initiative, Florida has seen an exodus of teachers, leaving hundreds of thousands of students without a highly qualified teacher. Districts are struggling to hire bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other support staff essential to keeping students learning, fed and safe. Clearly, the pay initiative has not worked.

“We’ve seen vacancies in our schools increase dramatically, and seen fewer people coming into the profession, and we’ve even seen an inconsistency in the sense that the governor recognizes with law enforcement that experience counts but fails to recognize that fact when it comes to educators. He recognizes the importance of keeping experienced officers in the profession, but completely devalues experience in education,” said President Spar.

Instead of trying the same thing over again, the governor should listen to the voices of the women and men who know Florida’s students by name. If he listened to those voices, he would hear the need for professional pay for all educators, a commitment to academic freedom and treating educators as professionals instead of micromanaging them. Those are concrete steps that would begin to address Florida’s dire need for each student to have certified, highly qualified educators in front of them every day.

The governor made a bold step earlier this year by saying that we need to move away from Florida Standards Assessments (FSA) testing, but we must recognize that this high-stakes testing has yielded minimal returns on improved student learning. It has yielded minimal returns because investing in testing does not teach kids. Investing in the people who work in our schools, does.

Two years ago, FEA called on the Legislature to increase the base student allocation by $178. This budget falls short, as has every budget that has been passed in the past two years. We need to have resources to invest in fair, equitable pay for all who work in our schools so they will stay in our schools rather than seek employment elsewhere. We need to be able to invest in our students such as through strong mental health supports, which this budget also fails to address.

“Gov. DeSantis calls his budget, a freedom-first budget. When our country was founded on the ideal of freedom, it was founded with the belief that we must have an educated citizenry, and that needed to occur through a system of public schools. Today we say that system of public schools needs to achieve the goal of educating every child, regardless of race, background, ZIP code or exceptionality. His budget fails to ensure that fundamental basis of freedom for all citizens in our state.”

Ultimately, it is the Legislature that determines how public education will be funded for the coming year. The Florida Education Association looks forward to working with state lawmakers to address the critical needs of our public schools.

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