By Amanda Litvinov
Many who know politics say nothing really interesting happens at the national conventions of the two major parties. But don’t tell that to the dozens of members of the National Education Association who are in attendance of this year’s National Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida.
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One enthusiastic delegate is California math teacher Davina Keiser. “My role is to make sure that anyone I come into contact with, either inside or outside of my delegation, understands the role of the teacher in public education and that we care first and foremost about the kids,” said Keiser, who also chairs NEA’s Republican Educators Caucus.
With the threat of extreme weather due to Hurricane Isaac came a storm of cancellations and postponements of events originally planned for tents that can’t stand the expected high winds. But NEA members were able to gather for a get-together brunch on Sunday.
At that event, Florida educator and Vice President of the Florida Education Association Joanne McCall welcomed the delegates to her state, which she said has been working toward building bipartisan commitment to public education for at least a decade.
She told the educators that at FEA they’ve been using a lot of four-letter words lately—no, not those four-letter words—words like “hope.”
“We have to provide hope to our members and potential members to remind them that despite the fact that we’re under attack, they are the ones who are on the side of right for public education students and that we’re standing up for students and members,” said McCall.
The other four-letter words: “Vote” and “join.”
“We need to be active and vote and elect pro-public education leaders in the schoolhouse, the statehouse and the White House,” said McCall. “Our strength is in our members and our activism and our voting can make the difference.”
About 40 percent of the Florida Education Association’s members side with the GOP. At least a quarter of NEA’s overall membership leans Republican.
“Republican candidates and policy makers say they care about public education, too, but we have to remind them that actions speak louder than words,” said Keiser. If decisions are made from the top down, she said, lawmakers must work closely with educators.
“It’s important for GOP lawmakers to know that we’re not one party’s organization, we’re a bipartisan organization and the issue that connects us all is public education, the cornerstone of our democracy,” said FEA Vice President McCall.
“If we don’t keep public education public then we will have a two-tiered system of haves and have-nots. And that’s not what our union is about. Our union is about making sure that public education remains so all students have the opportunities to go through that doorway to success.”