This year I held my very first Delegate Assembly as President of the Florida Education Association, and what an event it was. A former president, a candidate for Senate, a moving session on institutional racism and tons of new business items – we had it all. The FEA Delegate Assembly held last weekend (October 20-22) at the Rosen Centre in Orlando gave us an opportunity to reflect on and discuss important education issues and the organization’s future course. It was so wonderful to see teachers, education staff professionals, higher-ed faculty, graduate assistants, students and retirees from all over the state gather together to celebrate public education and to conduct the business of our union. With more than 1,000 delegates and guests in attendance, there were a number of highlights:
- It was an honor to host the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who talked about the challenges and rewards of public education and who campaigned for none other than Hillary Clinton. Clinton talked about his wife’s plans to make college affordable and embraced community schooling. His promise to the delegates was this: “You will have a partner in the White House who understands your role.” The former president also embraced arts education, which is often shunted in the current regime of testing overkill, giving a personal example from his youth. “I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have music to run to,” Clinton said.
- Vice President Fed Ingram introduced an unbelievable session on institutional racism. After his introduction, in which he laid out the problems some of our students face that are the result of poverty, homelessness and the lingering impacts of racism, he said: “We can’t afford to leave anyone out of ‘We the People.’” He turned over the program to the dynamic David J. Johns, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Johns conducted a panel discussion that included the FEA officers, community leaders including state NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze and some remarkable students: one from UCF and students who are current or former members of the Miami Norland High School Freedom Writers program. It was an emotional session – tears were shed. You should check it out at MyFEATV.com. It was truly a remarkable event.
- There were tons of other highlights: Senate candidate Patrick Murphy showed us why he’d do more for public education in the Senate; we passed a resolution strengthening our resolve to challenge the constitutionality of the tax-credit voucher scheme; we had a phenomenal Human and Civil Rights luncheon, honoring a number of people who have worked to make all of our lives better; and we had great fun.
There’s just one more thing – and it’s vitally important. Throughout the Delegate Assembly, we emphasized the absolute necessity for EVERYONE to vote. During the event, our members engaged in GOTV by phone banking to encourage members to return their mail ballots and filling out post cards to encourage people to vote.
Your job depends on this election. Public education has been battered over the past decade and a half by politicians who would like to see public education privatized through for-profit charters and voucher schemes. We won’t fix this problem during this election, but we can get a good start on it. So, cast your mail ballot – or take advantage of early voting going on right now. Don’t wait until Election Day, when the weather might be nasty, traffic could be backed up or something could pop up in your life that demands attention. Take care of voting before November 8 … just to be sure. And if these early opportunities slip by, make ABSOLUTELY sure you go to the polls Tuesday, November 8.
The FEA officers and staff hope you enjoyed the 2016 FEA Delegate Assembly – we know we did. Thank you for this opportunity to lead our wonderful organization. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year’s Delegate Assembly.