PINELLAS PARK, Fla. --- Florida teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation, and now they're taking a stand in the fight for higher pay.
Members of the Florida Education Association are making 50 stops across 30 counties pushing for state leaders to increase teacher salaries and per-student funding.
Veronica Foley, an English teacher at Pinellas Park High School, says even after 28 years in a classroom, she's had to work two to three jobs. Sometimes, she would visit food banks in order to feed her family.
“I love reading and writing so much that I decided I had to share my passion,” Foley said. “We love kids. We knew we wouldn’t be rich, but we need to be able to live more than paycheck to paycheck.”
According to the National Education Association, Florida is the 46th worst state in the nation when it comes to teacher pay. On average, Florida teachers make around $48,000 a year, about $12,294 less than the national average.
Foley says it has made her question if she should change careers.
“I have thought about it, but I can’t because those kids need me,” she said with a smile.
Fedrick Ingram, a former band teacher and now the president of the Florida Education Association, says that's why he's taking the fight for higher pay across the sunshine state.
“We’ve got to do more for our schools because we’re in a crisis moment,” Ingram said.
Ingram worries about the future of education.
At the start of the school year, 300,000 students across Florida were in classrooms without a full-time teacher. He also worries about fewer college students choosing education as a viable career.
“Every single child deserves to have what they need in a classroom,” Ingram said.
Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced a plan to raise the minimum starting salaries for teachers, but state leaders are still working out the funding for it.
“I’m confident state leaders can find a way to step up. I'm a teacher and teachers are always ever optimistic. We believe in what we cannot see,” Ingram said.
The Fund Our Future bus tour has stops this week in Manatee, Collier, DeSoto, Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.
On Wednesday, the bus stopped at Skycrest Elementary in Clearwater, Pinellas Park High School and Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park.
We reached out to Pinellas and Hillsborough School District leaders to find out what, if anything, they're doing to address these issues.
Hillsborough County is forwarding salary discussions to the state level.
It is encouraging to see our Governor and several of our legislators are making teacher pay a priority to ensure our state is competitive when it comes to recruiting the best teachers for our students. It is important not only to recruit new teachers but also retain high-quality educators who are already in our profession.
Pinellas County School leaders also say they support higher teacher wages, writing in an email:
We appreciate all efforts to increase teacher pay in Florida. Having the resources to recruit and retain the best teachers is critical for the success of our students and our state.
The Florida Education Association will also join the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association to host a community conversation about student discipline. The event is set for Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at the HCTA office.