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Andrew Spar: We continue the fight for Florida to ‘Fund Our Future’

So many of the events of the past year have had a profound effect on our lives. I’d like to begin with a review.

Last January, we came to Tallahassee and held one of the largest demonstrations in Florida’s history in order to shine a light on the state of public education. Gov. DeSantis seemed moved and declared 2020, “The Year of the Teacher.” He proposed a significant increase to beginning classroom teacher pay, but to the frustration of many, this PreK-12 proposal ignored the needs of veteran classroom teachers, other instructional staff and education staff professionals (bus drivers, food service workers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and others).

During the 2020 legislative session, FEA, local leaders and members pushed back and advocated for a more genuine investment in our public schools, instead of an empty slogan. And after decades of disinvestment, we called for a “Decade of Progress” for our public schools and those who work in them. The result was a mixed bag of small victories coupled with bad policies, but it was something on which we would continue to build.

Andrew Spar, FEA President Spar started teaching music at a Daytona Beach public school in 1994. He was elected president of Volusia United Educators in 2003, elected vice president of FEA in 2018 and became president in September 2020, after Fedrick Ingram left FEA’s top leadership position to become secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Spar serves as a vice president of AFT.

Then, just as the 2020 legislative session was coming to a close, our energies were diverted to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences. What followed, and continues, is perhaps the most inspired show of solidarity, support and sheer perseverance ever displayed by the women and men in Florida’s public schools.

This March 2, almost a full year after the start of the pandemic, lawmakers will convene the 2021 legislative session. The Florida economy was hit hard by the pandemic, which means they will have to prioritize spending with a pot of money that was less than optimal to begin with.

However, we cannot allow this crisis to excuse the decades of neglect borne by our schools and the students we serve. We agreed last year to push back and fight forward for a true decade of progress. We agreed that we would not relent in our mission to truly “Fund Our Future.” Standing shoulder to shoulder, the local unions within FEA will not be deterred by this pandemic, nor by political slogans. We will fight to increase spending for public schools. We will advocate for honest and fair salary increases for all members, and we will work to ensure the proper implementation of the $15 per hour constitutional amendment passed by voters in November.

And although it will not be easy, we are better poised than we were before. During the recent election cycle, public education locals within FEA focused on candidates who would support the issues that are most important to us, regardless of political party. We did not endorse in every race, carefully scrutinizing not only the candidates but the viability of their campaigns. We believe that this approach will better serve us in the upcoming session. With friends on both sides of the political aisle and more friends in leadership roles, we are better positioned to push for our pro-public school agenda.

Our approach during this legislative session will be to secure opportunities for better working conditions and pay for all members, as well as fighting for the future of all our students. Additionally, we will continue to defend public schools, our professions and our right to have a voice on the job. Our best hope for success comes if we commit to working together. The real power of unions lies with their members, standing together and fighting forward.

Because of Covid-19 protocols, lobbying will likely be done virtually. We will have to find creative ways to communicate with lawmakers through Zoom, email and good old-fashioned phone calls. There will likely be few, if any, face-to-face conversations (or demonstrations) with lawmakers in Tallahassee.

We will have to be constant and diligent in our interactions with lawmakers and their staff back home, as well as in Tallahassee, making sure that they know we are still here, and that the success of Florida rides on sincere investment and support for public schools.

Stay safe, and thanks for all you do for our schools and communities.

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