Gulf County residents know what it means to stand up for community. During the past six months, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, we have had to come together repeatedly to fight for our homes and to rebuild a community that is strong, and that reflects our values. Many of the challenges we have had to face weren’t easy, but we knew that if we worked in partnership with one another that we could get the job done better, together. It’s time for our community to come together again and fight for an institution that serves as the anchor in our communities – our neighborhood public schools.
This year in Tallahassee, law makers are debating whether they should increase the per-student funding they send to public schools in Florida. Last year, they only increased that funding by 47 cents. That just isn’t enough. Our public schools are the bedrock of our communities, and it’s critical that we show our elected leaders that we value everything these schools contribute to our neighborhoods. They provide our children with a world class education, allowing them to learn and grow, and develop the skills they need to compete in a global economy. They provide opportunities to our children like sports and the arts, helping them learn teamwork and creative problem-solving skills. And they serve as a community hub, hosting sporting events and recitals and community events that bring us joy, and bring us together. If we want a strong community, we need strong neighborhood public schools.
Florida’s public schools are being left behind by our legislators. Our schools are 46th in the nation for teacher pay and 47th in pay for support staff. When you look at inflation-adjusted pay for Florida educators for the past decade – we’re paying them less now than we were in 2009. Our schools are so starved for resources that they can’t even hire enough teachers to fill the classrooms. This school year, Florida’s public-school system started with 4,000 teacher vacancies. Next year, that number is expected to grow to over 10,000. Our public schools are suffering. When our schools suffer, so do our kids, and our communities.
We know what it takes to build a strong community – we’ve been doing it non-stop since the Storm. We know how powerful our community is when it comes together with one voice, for one purpose. That’s why we must come together, now, for our public schools. This Saturday a group of parents, students, educators, pastors, leaders, and neighbors who value our public schools and everything they give to our community are holding an event called “Stronger then the Storm” at Honeyville Park from 1-4 p.m. CDT. It’s going to be a celebration of everything our community has accomplished together, and an opportunity for us to fight for our public schools. I’ll be there, and I hope you’ll join me.
Cassie Studstill is a resident of Port St. Joe