Election 2014: What Will It Mean for Education Employees?

Less than half of Florida’s eligible voters bothered to vote in the last gubernatorial election. That decision carried a heavy price for public schools and public school employees.

The 2014 election cycle is off and running with big implications for Florida’s public schools.

Voter Registration Deadline
Primary Election: July 28, 2014
General Election: October 6, 2014
Early Voting Period
Primary Election: August 16-23, 2014
General Election: Oct. 25-Nov. 1, 2014
Election Day
Primary Election: August 26, 2014
General Election: November 4, 2014

This fall, Florida voters will decide whether to re-elect their current governor or fire him and hire someone new. In addition, voters will have the opportunity to choose up to 120 Florida House members, 20 state senators and many of their local school board members. These elected offices, particularly the governor, have substantial impact on the nature, scope and direction of our public school funding, policies and reforms.

It is surprising that while Florida voters have consistently listed “education” as a top state issue and expressed overwhelming support for their local public schools, less than half of Florida’s eligible voters bothered to vote in the last gubernatorial election.

That decision carried a heavy price for public schools and public school employees. In his first legislative session, Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, cut more than $1 billion in funding for public schools, gave it away in the form of new tax breaks for corporations and proudly signed the punitive teacher evaluation legislation, SB 736, as his very first bill.

Even more striking was the turnout in the August primary that year. Barely 20 percent of Florida’s voters showed up to vote in the 2010 primary election even though it decided a majority of most local school board races. “Off-year”, or non-presidential year elections, are too important to the future of our public schools to be decided by so few.

Voters give many reasons for not voting. Some simply believe the system is stacked against them. For others, the problem is that candidates are not addressing the issues they care about. And some non-voters are reluctant to participate because they see voting as a hassle. Yet perhaps the most important reason why many don’t vote is because nobody asked them to. Their friends and family members may not vote, and no one’s talking to them about how important voting is and the real impact that election day decisions will have on all of our lives.

School employees can play an important role in providing family, friends, co-workers and people in their communities with the information and the motivation they need to vote.

Education employees can increase the public education vote by reminding people how important it is to register, helping them understand how to do it and organizing and promoting voter registration drives in schools and in communities. Of course, getting education employees registered does not guarantee they will go to the polls and vote in the August primaries or in the general election in November.

However, experience tells us that there are several key things we can do to increase voter turnout among education employees and others who support public education.

Emphasize what’s in it for them. People tend to vote in larger numbers when they see a clear connection between elections and their lives. While it may seem obvious, education employees need to understand what’s at stake in this election and how it will affect them, their jobs and their families.

Focus on the fight for voting rights. Educators must remind people not to take their right to vote for granted. Others struggled for many years to secure voting rights for all of us and education employees should lead by example, demonstrating that it is a right that should not be wasted.

Get people talking. It is a well-established fact that people who are asked or encouraged to vote by peers and others whom they know and respect tend to vote in larger numbers than people who are not. Education employees need to make a point of talking often to their friends, family and co-workers about voting and why it is so important this year.

Get past the “who’s ahead” discussion. Voters are bombarded with media stories about who’s ahead in the polls and who has the most money. These kinds of “horse race” discussions can be a real turnoff for voters. Voters need helpful information about where the candidates stand on education issues, what they are for and against, how their positions differ and what is at stake for our public schools. School employees can provide the reliable and unbiased information on education issues that voters need to make a good decision.

Promote voter participation early and often. Turning out the education vote requires a repeated and sustained effort. It is never too early to start the discussion about the importance of voting in this election.

Education employees must lead the effort to elect candidates who support our public schools. We must make sure that voters turn out and participate in the decisions that will have an impact on all of us.

— Pat Dix and Lynda Russell, FEA Public Policy Advocacy

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