Today, millions of educators across the country continue this mission, even during a pandemic. They ensure that every child in America gets the best education possible, regardless of their race, background, or ZIP code.
Labor Day is a national holiday that has been observed since 1894. It celebrates the courage, dedication, and advocacy of the working people of America, including the many thousands of educators in Florida.
Teachers have been uniting across the country since the 1800s in order to promote a better future for students and their profession. They were part of the growing American labor movement in early 20 century.
The Florida Education Association was founded in 1886 in this Sunshine State. Initially, only teachers were involved in the organization. Soon, education support staff joined the ranks. Teachers and education staff were driven from the beginning by common core values. We care about every child who enters our schools and gets on our buses. We also recognize our responsibility to stand up for children in Florida and make sure that public schools live up to the ideals set forth by our founders.
Today, the work is continuing with a new urgency.
Nearly 9,000 positions were vacant in Florida's public schools at the beginning of the school year. This is a total of 4,961 teaching vacancies, and 3,753 support staff vacancies, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and secretaries, maintenance workers and paraprofessionals, custodians, and other positions.
This means that around 450,000 students started school without a teacher who is certified and full-time. This is because districts don't have enough bus drivers to provide reliable and timely transportation for students.
These vacancies, in a larger context, highlight the challenges that Florida faces in meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a high-quality, free and uniform public education system.
What are teachers and staff looking for?
They demand fair and equitable wages. Florida's teachers are 48 th among the nation's average teacher pay. Florida's support staff also rank in the bottom half of the list.
Teachers want job security so that they are not at risk of losing their jobs if they advocate for children. They demand respect for their knowledge and ability to make decisions. After all, they know the faces and names of the students they teach.
They want to be able to teach without fear and intimidation, which is what educators face from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. All of us know that children deserve highly-qualified and experienced staff and teachers in public schools. Our children need full-time, certified teachers.
We can work together to ensure that our public schools retain the best teachers and support staff, rather than letting them go looking for jobs elsewhere. We can find new teachers and staff to fill the many vacancies in Florida's schools.
Let us as a nation, celebrate Labor Day by doubling down on the vision of our founders for a democratic republic based on an educated citizenry and strong public schools.