Our professions are in crisis. We have massive vacancies among our education staff professionals and our instructional staff. Vacancies are now creeping up on college and university campuses.
When Carole, Nandi, local presidents and I talk to members around the state, we hear the reasons that so many are packing up and leaving the profession — too much micromanagement by Tallahassee and the district, attacks on our public schools and us specifically, the stress associated with the enormous regulation of the curriculum and high-stakes testing, low pay and disappearing benefits, and the inability to do what is best for kids.
All these reasons stem from policy decisions made by school board members, state House and Senate members, and the governor. If we want good policy and the freedom to do what is best for our kids, then we must participate in the political process and ensure that those elected to represent us are doing what is best for Florida’s students, public schools and employees.
I have heard many times over the years that we “should not be political.” However, we cannot sit on the sideline if we want good pay, benefits and the freedom to do what is right for every kid. I have heard members say, “I don’t like that FEA only supports Democrats” and that we should not be choosing a political party. We don’t. We endorse candidates from both parties. In fact, this year we endorsed, among other Republicans, the chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Sen. Joe Gruters in his re-election to the Florida Senate. He earned this endorsement because he has worked with us on specific policy issues.
Public education has always been and must always be a non-partisan issue. What we must do is ask all candidates where they stand on good policy for Florida’s public schools and our professions. We should ask them, “What are you doing to address the low pay for teachers and staff?” “What are you going to do about the massive teacher and staff shortages?” “What are you doing to address the impacts of Covid on student learning?”
It does not matter if the candidate is a Republican, Democrat or has no party affiliation. What matters is this: Will they stand with Florida’s public-school students, teachers and staff? Will they support academic freedoms on Florida’s college and university campuses? We all agree that strong public schools and vibrant colleges and universities are vital to the success of our state and country. We know that strong public schools are the foundation of America. We know that decisions about our public schools should be based on sound practices and not political opportunities.
The good news is you vote in every election! More than 90 percent of our members vote in every general election. However, only about 30 percent vote in the primary elections, which is where the school board races that directly impact local schools are often decided. In both elections, even lower numbers of our family members vote.
This year let’s put public education policy on the ballot. Let’s challenge our colleagues and family members to get out and vote. Let’s make sure that every candidate is loyal and committed to Florida’s students, teachers, staff and public schools, not to a political party or the governor, who has used his vast financial resources to endorse school board candidates who pledge their loyalty to him and his agenda while investing $10 million to elect school board candidates who do not support us or our students.
FEA is nearly 150,000 strong, and when we consider our families, we are one powerful voting bloc. We have the power to influence policy by voting for the candidates who will stand up for us and our students.
Andrew 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 president in September 2020.