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Locked out, but never knocked out

Despite pandemic restrictions, we found numerous ways to speak up for students, public education, and our freedoms and working conditions

When teachers and education staff professionals showed up April 6 to testify about two bad bills, both were postponed. Unable to stand up before legislative committees, educators got up on the Capitol steps and said their piece anyway. (Video courtesy of Florida AFL-CIO)

What’s the big takeaway of the 2021 legislative session? You can’t keep educators down. No matter the obstacles we face, we will find a path to push for positive change for our students, our members and public education. PreK-12 teachers and education staff professionals, higher education faculty and graduate assistants, education students and retirees — we’re all in this together to make a real difference.

Our advocacy is especially crucial each legislative session, when lawmakers make policy decisions and set budgets. The stakes are enormous:

  • Funding for students, schools and salaries
  • Our retirement
  • Even our rights and freedoms to join together as advocates.

We count on having a say in the legislative process. This year, the pandemic made that tough. Most visitors were locked out of the Capitol complex where the decision-making is done. Everywhere, Covid-19 safety precautions had to be observed.

So did that mean we were silent? Of course not! Our members are too committed and our issues are too important. What we saw instead was a phenomenal level of participation from members statewide. 

Under pandemic restrictions during the 2021 legislative session:

  • More than 300 members of the Florida Education Association and other AFL-CIO unions came in person to Tallahassee  to testify before the state Senate and House, some driving from as far as Miami for the chance to speak to lawmakers for as little as 30 seconds. Some members made the trip to testify multiple times, knowing on each trip that they might be denied the chance to speak or limited to less than a minute in front of state senators or representatives.
  • Educators and education supporters from our communities made over 3,000 phone calls to legislators to ask them to vote in support of public education and against destructive bills.
  • Nearly 10,000 members and concerned voters sent more than 15,000 emails to lawmakers.
  • We texted thousands of people in our communities and even knocked on their doors to ask them to take action in support of our students and educators.
  • Members spoke out at news conferences and in digital ad spots to urge support for students, public schools and educators, particularly educators’ freedoms to advocate.

There is no doubt lawmakers heard us — and saw us at in-person events. Large numbers of our members took action again and again throughout the 60-day legislative session, March 2-April 30.

Selected scenes from the 2021 session

March 17, Tucker Civic Center

The only way to testify to Florida’s senators about legislation this year was to do it remotely from Tallahassee’s Civic Center. On March 17, about 100 members from throughout the state made the trip in order to speak against Senate Bill 1014, legislation that attempted to take away educators’ freedom to advocate for their students and their profession. The drill at the Civic Center was show up, line up and hope to be admitted so that you could wait to speak on camera to a big TV screen.

Above, members line up to testify at the Tucker Civic Center on March 17. Below, many spoke against Senate Bill 1014 and for their rights and freedoms, both during the Senate committee meeting and at that day's press conference.

April 6, FEA office

FEA’s downtown Tallahassee office became the session staging place for members heading to speak to state representatives at Florida’s House, which unlike the Senate did allow limited visitors — those registered for a committee or with an appointment. 

FEA President Spar addresses members
FEA President Andrew Spar speaks with educators ready to walk to the Capitol to speak in front of lawmakers. They didn't get the chance because a bill was postponed, but spoke out from the Capitol steps instead (video, top of page).
Members and leaders make an early morning trek from the FEA office to the Capitol.

April 14 and 15, Capitol and Civic Center

Week after week during session, members and leaders from local PreK-12 unions and the United Faculty of Florida advocated for our issues in the socially distanced House and remotely to the Senate. 

At left, it’s a “full House” committee meeting in socially distanced times as a sprinkling of our members wait to speak on House Bill 835. At right, UFF President Karen Morian captures the scene in a remote testimony room at the Civic Center as educators wait to testify against Senate Bill 1014. 

April 20, Tucker Civic Center

Approximately 150 union members — from FEA and AFL-CIO affiliated unions across Florida — turned out to speak up for their rights and freedoms as the Senate Rules Committee was again poised to consider Senate Bill 1014. Once again, the committee did not take up the bill.

FEA and other AFL-CIO affiliated union members line up at the civic center
The crowd on April 20 included union members from several AFL-CIO affiliated unions, including FEA, AFSME, CWA and IBEW. Below, several members participated in a press conference to make clear their opinions on any action to take away their freedoms.
News crews film the press conference

April 30, Tallahassee

The 2021 legislative session came to a close with some remarkable wins for public schools, our students and educators. For a look at how everything came out, please see the April 30 issue of Frontline. And remember, this session is over but our advocacy continues. Much work remains to be done for all the people in our public schools. To keep up with the issues, follow FEA on Facebook and Twitter. To get FEA action text alerts,  text “edactivist” to 31996

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