ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County teachers are expected to fill at least eight charter buses Monday for an early morning trip to Tallahassee.

They’ll join thousands of their classroom colleagues from across the state to petition lawmakers to pass pay increases that some say are long overdue.

The rally is scheduled for Monday afternoon in front of the historical Capitol in Tallahassee, one day before the opening day of the 2020 Legislative Session.

“We are sending the message that we have to fund our future,” said Wendy Doromal, President of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. “We have to put our students first and make sure there’s a teacher in every classroom."

Teachers in Florida have long petitioned for smaller class sizes, fewer mandates, and more pay.

The Florida Education Association ranks Florida 47th in the nation for overall average of teacher pay, and 27th in the nation for the average starting pay for teachers, which is $36,636. 

“The fact is, a lot of teachers simply cannot live as single people and pay student loans on that salary,” said Nicholas Anderson who has been teaching AP English Literature in Orange County for 13 years. “No one is saying a teacher should make what other professionals make. Teachers need to make what they have to survive in an increasingly expensive city and state.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a $91.4 billion budget for lawmakers to consider in the upcoming legislative session. That proposal includes $900 million to “retain and recruit” teachers and another $600 million to raise the minimum starting salary for teachers to $47,500.

“You look forward — how do you recruit and retain high-quality teachers? Because ultimately that makes a probably the most significant difference if a student is going to achieve or not,” DeSantis said.

However, teachers say the proposal leaves out thousands of veteran teachers who will see little to no pay increase, while incoming teachers with no experience could earn as much as those with several years’ experience.

Some of the Governor’s biggest supporters on the plan, including Republican State Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County, say the proposal is not the end.

“The methodology to come up with the Governor’s proposal has some challenges,” Fine said. “It involves increasing teacher pay for everyone at the lower-end of the scale, while making no changes to people at the upper end of the scale and that creates salary compression and equity issues. While the intent is great, we’d all like to pay teachers more, I think the way in which we get that done has to be figured out.”

Leaders Weigh in on Bonuses

DeSantis points out in lieu of an across the board pay increase for all teachers, his proposal includes bonuses based on experience.

“We did all of that within the context of a budget that was still the least amount of increase of spending in four or five years and added to the state’s budget reserves, and that’s the way to do it,” DeSantis said.

Those like Wendy Doromal contend bonuses lack financial security for more experienced teachers.

“You can’t pay a mortgage with a bonus,” Doromal said.

“This is an issue of fairness and equity, so we need to raise teacher pay across the board,” said Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando. “This teacher pay conversation can not only be about new hires and starting salaries. We have to make sure we are compensating our veteran teachers and many others who are working in our public schools.”

Guillermo Smith says funding exists.

“One way we can do that is ending automatic corporate tax refunds to the Disneys and Universal Studios of the world,” Guillermo Smith said. “This year the Florida Legislature is estimated to give $562 million in automatic corporate tax refunds not to small businesses, but to the 1 percent of Florida businesses who actually pay corporate income taxes — folks who are raking in huge profits who frankly don’t need automatic $562 million refund.”