Gulf County came together recently at Honeyville Park in Wewahitchka for “Stronger than the Storm: Uniting for the Schools Our Students Deserve,” a community event to raise awareness and support for Gulf District Schools.

A coalition of educators, parents and community organizations, including the Gulf County Education Association (GCEA), sponsored the event to educate and engage the community in actions to hold elected officials, local and statewide, accountable in providing sufficient support for public schools.

“Now that we know that we are stronger than the storm, we know that we have the strength to stand together and demand that Tallahassee fund our future by funding our schools,” said GCEA President Krissy Gentry. “We are here. We survived. We sacrifice every day to rebuild this community. It is time Tallahassee recognizes this sacrifice and passes the funding we need to rebuild our present to prepare for our future.”

At one “take action” booth, a student wrote a postcard with a powerful message:

“Dear Governor, I love my public school. Our community is stronger than the storm and we need your help. Please give more money to public schools like mine.”

Florida Education Association (FEA) President Fedrick Ingram spoke of the need for lawmakers to fund our future by investing in our students, neighborhood public schools and educators, telling the crowd that public education is not perfect, but is called to a perfect mission: “student success.”

“Each and every student deserves the opportunity to be their best selves, to have the right resources in their schools, to have the proper infrastructure, to have a qualified, certified teacher who cares from the heart, and to have a community who will corral around them to help them be the best that they can be,” Ingram said. “But the mission will only succeed if we all work together and believe in our public schools.”

The event was dedicated to long-time Gulf County School Board member Billy Quinn, Jr., who passed away last month.

“It was never about him. It was always about the community, the kids, the teachers, what could he do to help better the schools and the community,” said County Commissioner and Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School teacher Sandy Quinn, speaking about what his uncle meant to the Quinn family and the community. “He cared more about your issue than whatever issue he was dealing with. He was truly a blessing to Gulf County.”

The FEA will place a park bench in front of Port St. Joe Elementary School to honor Mr. Quinn’s legacy as a champion for Gulf County’s children.

Local businesses also stepped up to support the event: Duren’s Piggly Wiggly, Capital City Bank, Anchored South, Pepper’s Mexican Grill, The Brick Wall, Cut N Up, Polished and others donated food and prizes.

During the event, lawmakers in Tallahassee voted to pass the state budget that Ingram said will not undo the damage done to our public schools.

“This year’s budget is a small step forward, but it is far from enough to overcome more than a decade of underfunding for our schools. And even that small step is undercut by the Legislature’s other actions,” Ingram said in a statement after the event. “Lawmakers are pouring $130 million, to start, into a new voucher program that will pay unaccountable private and religious schools straight out of taxpayers’ pockets.

“They are funding a bonus scheme instead of fair competitive salaries that will allow us to recruit and retain teachers and school staff.”

Florida ranks 46th in the nation for teacher salaries and many school staff earn wages below the federal poverty line, according to the FEA.

“This is a growing and vibrant state, but our education funding puts us in the bottom 10 nationally. The new budget won’t do much to change that,” Ingram said. “Our students deserve better, and this state can do better.”