LYNN HAVEN, Fla. — As Florida lawmakers prepare for the 2020 Legislative Session, residents are speaking up and educators are coming forward to try to bring change to a looming problem in the Sunshine State.
“I don’t have to be a math major to figure out that we are heading towards a crisis in education,” said Alexis Underwood, a teacher at Mowat Middle School and the President of the Association of Bay County Educators, as she addressed the Bay County Legislative Delegation on Tuesday night.
She has a request for state legislators.
“What I’m asking the legislature to do is take a deep breath, and provide an increased level of teacher funding,” she said on Wednesday.
This wish comes after 17 years as an educator. Underwood said she has seen things take a turn for the worst, first-hand.
“Teachers like myself no longer want our kids to follow in our footsteps,” said Underwood. “We don’t want them to face the same challenges that we see young teachers facing now.”
Some of those challenges include an average salary lower than the living wage in Florida, while the standards and evaluations only get tougher.
“I don’t mind being held to a high standard if I’m given a shot at achieving it and I’m compensated accordingly,” she said.
According to the Florida Education Association, at the start of the 2019-2020 school year, the state had 3,500 teacher vacancies.
This means about 300,000 students were without a full-time certified instructor.
And many current educators are concerned that the well of people to fill their positions upon retirement is drying up.
“Our experienced educators are leaving the profession in droves,” said Tom Lentz, the Executive Director of the A.B.C.E.. “Class sizes have gotten bigger, the standardized testing has gotten harder.”
He also said new teachers are becoming harder to find.
“If we had more money to pay teachers, they’d be more likely to enter the profession,” said Lentz. “The colleges of education enrollment is very much down in all of the colleges of education across the state.”
He said it’s a widespread, multi-faceted issue that needs to be addressed soon to protect the future.
“Educators build the future,” he said. “We teach future everything else. You can’t have doctors or lawyers or construction workers or anything else without great teachers in the classroom.”
“If we value our children, we’re going to compensate the individuals who educate them and care for them in a way that reflects the level of our care and concern,” she said.