Florida Teachers Vow the ‘Rally in Tally’ is Only a Start

On January 13, 15,000 people gathered in Tallahassee to demand the Florida legislature and governor stop defunding public education. For too many years, conservative politicians have been hurting our children, teachers, support personnel, and the schools themselves. With the “Rally in Tally,” we launched a movement to reverse this damaging trend.

Of the 15,000 who descended on the state capital, 200 were from Alachua County, where I work. Teachers, parents, school board officials, University of Florida students and faculty, and labor activists boarded three buses chartered by the Alachua County Education Association to head to the rally and make our voices heard.

Sentiments on signs ranged from humorous to sad to angry. My personal favorite was one that read, “My bra gives me more support!” 

We arrived at the Civic Center in Tallahassee shortly before noon. The Florida Education Association had lunches waiting on those who had bussed in from across the state. FEA President Fedrick Ingram, Vice President Andrew Spar, Secretary-Treasurer Carole Gauronskas and others pumped us up before the march to the Capitol. The crowd roared when the speakers acknowledged teachers from Polk County, who had been threatened with the loss of their jobs for taking a personal day to attend the rally.

Once we started marching, chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” filled the streets. Sentiments on signs ranged from humorous to sad to angry. My personal favorite was one that read, “My bra gives me more support!” The woman carrying it wore her bra on the outside of her T-shirt. Every teacher in this state knows those are true words.


Florida is forty-sixth in the nation for teacher salaries, and forty-third in total education spending. Even though Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has proclaimed 2020 to be the “year of the teacher,” his plan to pay new teachers $47,500 a year leaves much to be desired. This is a reasonable starting salary, but DeSantis’s plan doesn’t take experienced teachers into account. Without increasing salaries, a teacher in Alachua County with a bachelor’s degree and fifteen years on the job will continue making just $500 more than the plan’s threshold for new hires. 

DeSantis has also completely ignored our support personnel—our aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, clerical staff, and others. They earn an atrociously low wage for difficult work that’s integral to running our schools. Why are they being ignored?

For the last twenty-plus years, Republican legislators and governors have systematically dismantled public education in Florida by mandating high-stakes testing, implementing divisive bonus schemes, and pouring public money into charter and private schools. Educators have had enough, which is why so many took a personal day to attend this rally.

Reaching the Capitol, we were greeted by Ingram, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Chicago Teacher Union President Jesse Sharkey, and Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. The Reverend Al Sharpton was also there, firing up the crowd by calling out lawmakers for the harm they’ve caused.

“This is not a political issue; this is a moral issue,” Sharpton said. “How can you have a heart for the children if you won’t pay the teachers and pay those who work in the schools? It is time for Florida to stand up and stand out and represent what is best in this country.”

There was a light rainfall during most of Sharpton’s speech, but after he uttered the following words, the rain stopped. “If this is the Sunshine State, let the sun shine,” he shouted. “For those that mop the floors and clean the cafeteria, let the sun shine. Let the clouds open back up on them, let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.”


The “Rally in Tally” was more than a protest. It was also a starting point for a larger effort.   Educators, parents, and community members must continue pressuring legislators and the governor to fund our public schools, and not just make an “adequate provision” for education. Instead of meeting the bare minimum, Florida needs to provide the children of our state with an exceptional education.

With these changes in place, learning can become joyous again—not just focused on a test that was designed to fail children.

So what would that look like?

High-stakes testing would disappear. The practice of retaining children who fail third-grade reading tests would stop (it does not work). Teachers would be paid well, so that they want to work in our state (the state’s teacher shortage is chronic and only going to get worse). Support personnel would receive a living wage. We would do away with ridiculous teacher bonus pay schemes. And the state would create new expanded wrap-around services—including dental and medical care, counseling services, and nutritional supports—to ensure all our students’ needs are being met.

With these changes in place, learning can become joyous again—not just focused on a test that was designed to fail children.

Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee have worked diligently to propagate a false narrative that public education in the state is failing. It’s not teachers or students who are to blame, but the starve-the-beast political strategy these legislators have deployed for decades. 

Public education has not failed. It is being failed by those who have a constitutional duty to provide the quality of education our students deserve.

Our rally may have ended on January 13, but when the legislature opened its 2020 session the following day, teachers across the state were organized to call for a Decade of Progress for Florida’s Public Schools. Among other demands, this expansive program appeals for an investment of $22 billion in education funding through 2030. Our state’s and our students’ futures depend on it.

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Kim Cook | Radio Free (2021-06-24T10:34:50+00:00) » Florida Teachers Vow the ‘Rally in Tally’ is Only a Start. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/02/florida-teachers-vow-the-rally-in-tally-is-only-a-start/.
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» Florida Teachers Vow the ‘Rally in Tally’ is Only a Start | Kim Cook | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/02/02/florida-teachers-vow-the-rally-in-tally-is-only-a-start/ | 2021-06-24T10:34:50+00:00
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