Teaching Profession

Florida Ed. Department Threatens to Fire Thousands of Teachers Rallying for Higher Pay

By Madeline Will — January 13, 2020 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has proclaimed 2020 the “year of the teacher.” And it’s starting off with a massive, statewide teacher protest.

Thousands of teachers, parents, and other supporters are expected to rally in Tallahassee on Monday—despite threats from the state that participating teachers could lose their jobs. Teachers took personal days to protest at the state capitol the day before the legislative session starts to call for higher pay and more school funding.

The Florida Education Association has proposed a $24 billion investment in public schools over 10 years. FEA President Fed Ingram said in an interview that the money would give every public school employee a 10 percent raise, and would also provide more resources for schools, including for programs like band, art, and drama.

“Teachers are advocating for students,” he said. “They want everything that’s necessary for student success.”

The average teacher salary in Florida is about $48,400, according to the National Education Association—well below the national average of $61,730. And according to Education Week data that’s adjusted for regional cost differences, Florida’s per-pupil spending is $9,764. The national average is $12,756.

The state’s teachers’ union has said teachers feel unappreciated and fed up with these conditions. Florida started the school year with about 3,500 teaching vacancies.

DeSantis, a Republican who has embraced several controversial education policies such as a state voucher program for middle-income families, has proposed raising the minimum teacher salary to $47,500, and implementing a new $300 million performance-based bonus program for teachers and principals. The proposed program would give bigger bonuses to teachers and principals who work at high-poverty schools. Bonuses are also based, at least partially, on gains that schools make in the state’s A-F school grading calculation.

Ingram said teachers are unhappy with both of those proposals, especially since the bonuses are tied to student test scores. Raising the minimum salary “disadvantages veteran teachers,” he said. “They would be left to fight over this bonus scheme as it relates to teachers, which is patently unfair.”

An ‘Illegal Strike’?

In Polk County, the seventh largest school district in the state, about 600 teachers initially said they would be absent from work for the rally. But as the date drew closer, another 1,000 teachers took personal days. Jacqueline Byrd, the district’s superintendent, said in a statement that she was unprepared to handle such high volume of teacher absences, and reached out to state leaders for help.

The Florida Department of Education responded with a strongly worded letter.

“The proposed failure to report represents a lack of commitment and focus on what is most important—the educational success of Polk County students,” wrote Matthew Mears, the general counsel for the department. "[A] concerted failure to report for duty constitutes an illegal strike under Florida law. When teachers collectively decide not to show up for work on a specific day, children suffer as learning slows or even stops altogether.”

Teachers who do not report for duty could be “terminated, ... subject to reemployment upon particular significant limitations,” Mears wrote. And the local teachers’ union could receive an up to $20,000 fine or have its certification as the bargaining agent revoked or suspended.

Stephanie Yocum, the president of the Polk Education Association, posted on Facebook that teachers who had not yet RSVPed for the bus ride to Tallahassee should report to work on Monday.

“It is important that the public message remain about what our students need to be successful, and we must not allow the commissioner to turn this into a distraction,” Yocum wrote.

On Sunday evening, the school district posted on Facebook that 1,500 teachers would be absent—slightly lower than previously expected. The district will keep schools open through a combination of substitute teachers and district staff.

Ingram called the department’s letter “an intimidation tactic.” Teachers are taking a personal day allowed in their contract and going back to work on Tuesday, so this doesn’t qualify as a strike, he said. Instead, teachers are exercising their rights “as citizens, parents, grandparents, and professionals.”

“This is no field trip for folks,” Ingram said. “This is business—unfortunately, that they have to conduct on behalf of themselves.”

Florida teachers are the latest to stage a statewide protest on a workday, following teachers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, and Indiana last year.

Top image: Thousands rallied and marched to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools Jan. 13 in Tallahassee, Fla. —Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP

Bottom: Fedrick Ingram, president of the Florida Education Association, speaks to the crowd of thousands gathered in front of the Florida Historic Capitol. —Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion ‘A Culture of Care’: How Schools Can Alleviate Educator Stress This Year
It takes more than deep breathing to alleviate the stress teachers feel. Here's how to get to the root cause.
Sean Slade & Alyssa Gallagher
6 min read
shutterstock 740616958 resized
Teaching Profession Reported Essay Students Aren’t the Only Ones Grieving
Faced with so many losses stemming from the pandemic, what can be done to help teachers manage their own grief?
4 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read