TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — On the eve of the first day of Florida's 2020 legislative session in Tallahassee, thousands of teachers from across the state boarded buses Monday, headed to the state Capitol for a huge rally.

The teachers hope to push state legislators for better pay and to raise attention to the number of teacher vacancies that are putting a strain on educators and class sizes.

With the starting salary for educators at just under $40,000 in some districts, public school teachers are calling on lawmakers to raise the starting salary, which is among the lowest in the U.S.

Outside Howard Middle School in downtown Orlando, more than 400 educators gathered in the early morning hours for an hours-long ride in yellow school buses to Tallahassee.

“We’re really excited to be able to get our voice heard,” said Wendy Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association.

“(We) definitely (want) more funding, less testing,” Dover Shores Elementary second-grade teacher Jessica Richards said.

Apopka Middle School teacher Anne Leatherbarrow says she's seen firsthand how teachers have struggled.

"My daughter started teaching. I was so proud of her when she got her degree and in a classroom. And five years in, she needed more money, so she quit. That really bothered me. And I'm here for all those other young teachers that need better pay," Apopka Middle School teacher Anne Leatherbarrow said.

“We have teachers working two and three jobs. We have teachers who can’t afford a car and ride a bicycle to school,” Doromal said.

Ulysses Floyd started his teaching career in 1958. Retired for 29 years, he said underpaying quality educators is why he’s still fighting for teachers decades later. 

“They’re struggling very much and they’re so dedicated. That’s why I’m still here trying to help them out, because of the work that they’re doing,” Floyd said.

With hundreds of educators now all loaded up, they push out for the rally - and ready to push for a better future, for themselves and their students.

“A well-educated society is a better society,” Richards said.

The educators made clear that the Tallahassee gathering was a rally — not a strike, which is illegal under Florida law.

That difference caused some issues for some teachers in Polk County Schools when they got a letter from the district forwarded from the Department of Education saying they could be fired for attending the rally. Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd clarified to say it was not a threat and that she supports those teachers.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing a pay increase for new teachers and a bonus for veteran educators. Critics argue it does not do enough for longtime teachers.

Live updates from our reporters in the field