Dozens of Broward teachers gathered Wednesday to push for higher wages and voice their opposition to for-profit charter schools, high-stakes testing and armed teachers, which they say are hurting public education.
The demonstration, called by the Broward Teachers Union, was held outside Broward College prior to the Florida Board of Education meeting in Fort Lauderdale. The six-person appointed board meets monthly to vote on policy proposals and hear recommendations.
Broward County is the second largest public school district in Florida by enrollment.
“We want them to understand we love our careers; we don’t want to be crippled,” said Anna Fusco, President of the Broward Teachers’ Union, which has been fighting for better teacher pay, less state mandated testing and fewer programs that send state money to charter schools.
“Base pay not bonuses!” was among many chants heard during the protest, attended by some 70 people, both teachers and parents.
Demonstrators later packed the board meeting, where Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie urged board members to prioritize the issue of teacher pay.
“The teacher pipeline has been significantly truncated and impacted,” he said. “That is ultimately going to affect our ability because we can have the best teaching plans in the world but we’re not going to be able to execute well because we will never exceed the collective capacity of the teachers we have in the classroom.”
At the end of the meeting, education advocates and parents spoke directly to the board about their concerns.
"You have a crowd in a room that spills over to the outside," said Karla Hernandez, President of the United Teachers of Dade. "There's a problem, and the problem is that this is systematic underfunding. This is is systematic dismantling of our public education that impacts our brown and black communities. Our children need fully funded public schools."
“The pay scale is flat," said Brian Edwards, 33, a Broward County high school teacher. "We’re getting supplemental bonuses but they don’t stay with us."
He also voiced concerns about how much time his students spend taking tests as part of the state’s standardized test-based school accountability system.
“I would like more time to teach my kids the useful skills, skills that will help them later in life,” he said. “Testing overrides so much of what we do, but that’s a finite thing. They need us to teach life skills as well.”
The rally was aimed in part at Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the veteran state-lawmaker who is now Florida’s top education leader. He has been criticized for using his power as the former speaker of the House to push bills that pleased school-choice supporters but angered many teachers and public-school officials.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran did not respond to the public comments at the meeting but said afterward, "We hear their concerns, and we hear where they'd like to see the prioritizations be and I think we're headed in that direction."
He pointed to a line in the budget proposal for next year which sets aside $10 million to provide incentives for high achieving college graduates to pursue a career in public education.